A New York State of Wine

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - ESCAPE - PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY WIL­LIAM HERE­FORD

One of Amer­ica's most spec­tac­u­lar wine re­gions is in the North­east. Take a de­tour from the big city to spend a week­end in New York State's Fin­ger Lakes, where Ray Isle sam­ples crisp Ries­lings and farm-to-ta­ble cui­sine.

THERE ARE DAYS WHEN LIFE makes you feel as though you’ve been poured into a blender and whizzed into a froth of ner­vous ex­haus­tion. As a res­i­dent of New York City, I find this hap­pens to me with dis­con­cert­ing fre­quency. But when it does, I have a so­lu­tion: high­tail it 300 kilo­me­ters north­west, to the Fin­ger Lakes.

A patch­work of vine­yards, ap­ple or­chards, hik­ing trails and small, thriv­ing towns, this bu­colic re­gion of New York State takes its name from 11 nar­row glacial lakes be­tween the cities of Rochester and Syra­cuse that run north to south, like the fin­gers of an ex­tremely un­usual hand. The five largest lakes, where you’ll spend most of your time in the re­gion, are Seneca, Cayuga, Skaneate­les, Canandaigua and Keuka. They are quite deep (al­most 200 me­ters, at some points), and be­cause wa­ter warms and cools more slowly than air, their im­mense vol­ume helps mod­er­ate the sur­round­ing tem­per­a­tures. Grape va­ri­eties like Ries­ling and Pinot Noir in turn can flour­ish, de­spite the bit­ter win­ters.

Add the re­gion’s rocky soil and a new gen­er­a­tion of am­bi­tious wine­mak­ers to the mix, and you’ve got the in­gre­di­ents for truly ex­cit­ing wine. While there are still a fair num­ber of unin­spir­ing bot­tles pro­duced for the bus­tour crowds, sev­eral top-flight winer­ies have opened over the past decade or so. (Note: when win­ery hop­ping, con­sider bring­ing along a des­ig­nated driver or, if you’re go­ing solo, en­list­ing the help of Uber.) Most are open yearround, but fall is the ideal time to visit. It’s har­vest sea­son, and the weather is cool and breezy. Here’s how to spend three per­fect days ex­plor­ing the re­gion.


A 1½-hour flight from New York City brought me to Rochester, the eas­i­est en­try point to the Fin­ger Lakes. I headed 50 kilo­me­ters south­east to the town of Canandaigua for a quick lunch at New York Kitchen (nyk­itchen.com; mains US$12–$21), a non­profit culi­nary cen­ter that high­lights the work of Empire State farm­ers, brew­ers and vint­ners. I tried a few Pinots in the tast­ing room, then dug in to a deca­dent “Adiron­dack”—a pizza named for the >>

moun­tains to the east, with wild mush­rooms, grilled ham, Gruyère and fresh pea shoots.

I de­cided to kick off my wine tast­ing in the place where qual­ity bot­tlings in the Fin­ger Lakes got started— Dr. Kon­stantin Frank (dr­frankwines.com), on the western shore of Keuka Lake. In the 1950s, this win­ery’s epony­mous founder proved that the re­gion could grow clas­sic grape va­ri­eties such as Ries­ling and Pinot Noir. I skipped the main tast­ing room and headed down the road to my reser­va­tion at the serene 1886 Re­serve Room, which of­fers a more per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, as well as older vintages and food pair­ings.

A quick swing around the south­ern tip of Keuka Lake took me to Do­maine LeSeurre (dl­win­ery.com), part of a new wave of am­bi­tious winer­ies driven by young vint­ners con­vinced of the re­gion’s po­ten­tial. Here, French ex­pats Cé­line and Sébastien LeSeurre fash­ion dry, el­e­gant wines that hover be­tween old and new world in their sen­si­bil­ity—case in point, their thrillingly pre­cise, Ch­ablis-like 2015 un­oaked Chardon­nay.

I next checked in to Geneva on the Lake (geneva on­the­lake.com; dou­bles from US$245), a grand re­sort in the lively burg of Geneva. It’s an ex­cel­lent home base, since Geneva’s down­town has be­come the re­gion’s restau­rant and bar nexus thanks to places like the Lin­den So­cial Club (fb.com/the­lin­denso­cial­club; small plates US$5–$7), which is renowned for its cock­tails. De­spite my abid­ing love of wine, I couldn’t re­sist the Pre­scrip­tion Julep (Cognac, rye, Ja­maican rum and mint). Was it the per­fect pair­ing for the “farm­ers’ mar­ket tostada,” made of mar­i­nated and grilled zuc­chini and yel­low squash? No idea, but the duo seemed like an ideal bal­ance of in­dul­gence and health.


To nav­i­gate around the lakes and avoid end­less north-south shut­tling, it’s best to con­cen­trate on one body of wa­ter a day. For Satur­day, I chose Seneca. Stretch­ing for 61 kilo­me­ters be­tween Geneva and Watkins Glen, it’s the largest of the five main lakes and is ringed with a num­ber of good winer­ies. A to-go cap­puc­cino from Monaco’s Cof­fee

( fb.com/mona­coscoffee) fu­eled my drive down Route 14 to my first stop, Forge Cel­lars (forge­cel­lars.com).A part­ner­ship be­tween lo­cal tal­ents Rick Rainey and Justin Boyette and ac­claimed Rhône vint­ner Louis Bar­ruol, Forge fo­cuses on ter­roir-ex­pres­sive Pinot Noir and Ries­ling. Their wines could go head-to-head with those from any­where in the world. I stocked up on the smoky 2016 Forge Lei­den­frost Vine­yard Dry Ries­ling. Af­ter Forge, it was time for lunch at F.L.X. Wienery (flxwienery.com; mains US$3–$18), a road­side shack serv­ing ex­cel­lent house-made hot dogs and brats. There’s also a sur­pris­ingly ex­ten­sive wine list that fea­tures ev­ery­thing from the house Ries­ling at US$5 a glass to a Do­maine de la Ro­manée-Conti La Tâche for US$2,500 a bot­tle—a clas­sic pair­ing with a chili dog, right? >>

Dozens of winer­ies line Route 14, so it’s im­por­tant to choose wisely. One of my fa­vorites is Ravines Wine Cel­lar (ravineswine.com), just south of Geneva. Wine­maker Morten Hall­gren’s stony Ar­getsinger Vine­yard Ries­ling is not to be missed, nor is the win­ery’s Ravi­nous Ta­ble wine­pair­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. This sea­son’s dishes might in­clude a 2008 Blanc de Blanc with a tart of po­tato and hazel­nuts or a 2016 Caber­net Franc with pork loin and plums smoked over grapevine trim­mings.

I drove back to Geneva for din­ner, as I had scored a much-cov­eted reser­va­tion at F.L.X. Ta­ble (flxtable.com; tast­ing menu US$59), ar­guably the re­gion’s best restau­rant. Owned by the cou­ple be­hind F.L.X. Wienery—Mas­ter Som­me­lier and chef Christo­pher Bates and his wife, Is­abel Bo­gadtke—the restau­rant has only 14 seats at one long din­ing ta­ble. In ad­di­tion to sam­pling dishes such as wild sal­mon with a red-pep­per-and-olive pan­zanella, you can’t help get­ting into a lively con­ver­sa­tion with your fel­low din­ers.


I started my day with a three-kilo­me­ter hike through the rock gorges at Watkins Glen State Park (parks.ny.gov), where the leaves on the trees were at their scar­let-and-gold peak. Af­ter­ward, I nipped around the south­ern end of Seneca and over to tiny Bell­wether Wine Cel­lars (bell­wether­wine­cel­lars.com), on the western shore of Cayuga Lake. Wine­maker Kris Matthew­son is one of the re­gion’s up-and-com­ing stars, and bot­tles like his vi­o­let-scented Sawmill Creek Vine­yard Pinot Noir make it clear why.

Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca (danoson­seneca.com; mains US$9–$26), a short drive west, is mod­eled on a clas­sic Aus­trian wine tav­ern and prob­a­bly the only place on the planet where you’ll find a “Vi­en­nese bento box” on the lunch menu. And yet the com­bi­na­tion of clas­sic Aus­trian sausages, spaet­zle and tape­nade served Ja­panese-style some­how makes per­fect sense.

On the east­ern shore of Cayuga Lake, Heart & Hands Wine Co. (heartand­handswine.com) is an­other cult, bou­tique pro­ducer. Hus­band-and-wife team Tom and Su­san Hig­gins make a tiny amount of Pinot Noir and Ries­ling from their own es­tate vine­yard. The wines come and go as they sell out, but if their fra­grant, top-of-theline Mo Chuisle (pro­nounced ma-cush-la) Pinot is there, grab a few bot­tles to take home.

For my fi­nal night, I checked in to the Inns of Aurora (innso­fau­rora.com; dou­bles from US$165), also on Cayuga Lake’s east. Owned by Pleas­ant Row­land, the cre­ator of Amer­i­can Girl dolls, this quar­tet of his­toric build­ings has been stun­ningly re­stored. Which of the inns you choose is a mat­ter of per­sonal taste—the fur­nish­ings in the Aurora Inn it­self are clas­sic, for ex­am­ple; Row­land House feels more con­tem­po­rary. But no mat­ter where you stay, be sure to sit by the lake­front firepit and have a glass of wine at sun­set. Any last ves­tiges of stress you might feel, from a life any­where in the world, will soon dis­si­pate.

FROM TOP: Seren­ity Vine­yards, a fam­ily-run win­ery bor­der­ing Seneca Lake; a sour­dough tar­tine with ri­cotta, tomato con­fit, egg and broc­coli rabe at Graft Wine & Cider Bar, in the town of Watkins Glen, which serves wines ex­clu­sively from New York State.

At Ravines Wine Cel­lar, guests can have a mul­ti­course meal with pair­ings at its Ravi­nous Ta­ble.

FROM TOP: Visi­tors can take a break from wine tast­ing at the Lin­den So­cial Club, a craft cock­tail bar in Geneva; F.L.X. Ta­ble, a 14-seat restau­rant in Geneva, pairs lo­cal wines with dishes such as chicken royal with Bur­gundy truf­fle; the his­toric E.B. Mor­gan House, one of the Inns of Aurora, has seven an­tiques-filled guest rooms.

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