Finger Lakes Fun
March 11, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

We're spending three days in Watkins Glen. Yes, I know it's kind of silly to be taking a vacation in the Finger Lakes in winter. We're looking to visit wineries, breweries, distilleries, and great restaurants. In terms of wineries, it'd be best if we could find a place that didn't serve just sweet wines but some actually decent wines. If the weather allows, we'd like to do some hiking, too (we know it will be muddy). We know nothing of the area, so any advice you have would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You're definitely not crazy to go in winter! We took a long weekend in the FLX in December (during a snow storm) and had a truly wonderful time. There will be fewer crowds in the tasting rooms, for one thing.

Depending on the weather, the gorge trails might be closed (ice and whatnot), but if they're open, they are a must. Taughannock Falls is also a beaut.

I don't care for sweet wine either, and somehow always manage to find so many wines that I like that I'm able to fill several cases to take home! Any tasting room worth it's salt has employees who can steer you towards wines that will suit your preferences. Many also list the residual sugar % on the tasting list which will help you find wines you'll like. I find the "goofier" wineries tend to have more sugary stuff so I generally don't stop at those.

My two absolute favorites are Ravine's Wine Cellars and Fox Run, though there are many, many (MANY) more that I just love. Lots of hidden gems on Keuka Lake, and of course all the big guys along the west side of Seneca.

Wagner has a great brewery (and winery), and I also enjoyed Finger Lakes Distilling.

And go cheese tasting!

The Finger Lakes is (are?) my favorite place in the world, and I could go on and on and on forever. Feel free to memail me for more suggestions!
posted by rinosaur at 11:49 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Shalestone Vineyards has delicious not-uber-sweet wines.

Gimme Coffee (in Ithaca or Trumansburg) has the best coffee of pretty much anywhere I've been in the US, and I now mail order beans from them monthly. If you're buying beans, they have a sticker on them with the roasting date, which is usually less than 2 days old.

If you aren't from an area with Wegmans, you HAVE to go to the Wegmans in Ithaca.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:52 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man just go into Watkins Glen and take your camera and tripod with you. You'll be taking the nature-and-canyon pics of a lifetime.

Taughannock, mentioned above, is definitely open in winter, I've been there in February.

Wineries: my general impression is that the fun is in testing whether they have any decent wine (Some don't. A British friend of mine--eccentric no doubt--spat out a white he was testing, making matching noises). But anyway, that's how you do it, take a testing and see. Just take a tour along the lake, there's one winery after the other.

For restaurants, you could make the trip over to Ithaca for half a day or so. There's some not too challenging hiking to be done along the two gorges that lie on both sides of Cornell's campus. The only food I (almost) recall from Watkins Glen is some unmemorable Pizza.
posted by Namlit at 11:53 AM on March 11, 2014

Was just there last week (first-time visitor to the area) for work in upstate NY.

On the way from Buffalo to Ithaca we stayed one night at the Belhurst Castle - wonderful stay and was able to snag one of the 11 original castle rooms - not that far from Watkins Glen, and the area is gorgeous. (Alas didn't have the time to take a look at the waterfalls and other places in the area, but a great visit nonetheless.)
posted by scooterdog at 12:00 PM on March 11, 2014

Seneca Lake Wine Trail.

Finger Lakes Beer Trail.

Seriously, Seneca Lake is a real hot spot for beer and wine these days. You won't be able to visit them all in one weekend.
posted by tommasz at 12:04 PM on March 11, 2014

Bully Hill Vineyards. Don't let 'em get your goat!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Distilleries - Myer Farm, Finger Lakes/McKenzie.

Restaurants - Hazelnut Kitchen, DaƱo's.

Beer - Ithaca Beer Co, Hopshire Farm, Wagner.
Rooster Fish is OK, and right in Watkins Glen.
posted by zamboni at 12:18 PM on March 11, 2014

Also, Finger Lakes Rieslings are actually good - try Dr Frank, Herman Wiemer, and Lamoreaux.
posted by zamboni at 12:22 PM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Watkin's Glen is gorges! (See what I did there?) Sadly, according to the website the gorge trail does not re-open until May. There are a ton of other waterfalls to see in that general area though. Buttermilk Falls State Park and Taughannock Falls State Park are among my favorites. (Take the rim trail in Taughannock if you can - the view is better.)

As far as food goes, I don't remember eating anything memorable in Watkins Glen. Nearby Ithaca had some good places to eat though! We liked the Carriage House, Moosewood (even though we're not vegetarians) and Ithaca Bakery.

Bellweather Cider is pretty well known too. Worth a visit if you like cider!
posted by geeky at 12:53 PM on March 11, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all so much! We're getting things kicked off this evening, and I appreciate all the great suggestions.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:43 PM on March 11, 2014

We visited there a couple years ago, and went to Finger Lakes Distillery (as linked before). Our main drive to go there is that they sell a distill-your-own-whiskey kit. You get some raw rye alcohol and a miniature barrel. You can then age the whiskey however long you want. I believe the barrel is good for multiple batches if you do it right, but the first one will be the best.

The first few miles of the drive up the east side of Seneca Lake was incredibly scenic.

posted by SquidLips at 2:41 PM on March 11, 2014

Definitely worth visiting Wiemer and Frank if you're serious about wine. Also Heron Hill makes some good stuff. Before you write off the sweet stuff entirely, I suggest you try to get a taste of the late harvest Riesling made by any of the above (Heron Hill had a 2006 when I was there last year, which was in a class with great German rieslings. But you have to like that stuff).

A number of wineries have restaurants that make the most of the spectacular view - these will typically be near the southern end of Seneca or Keuka lakes, where the hills are steepest.

There's a nice little pub/restaurant on the green in Hammondsport that has good food and a serious list of Finger Lakes back vintages.

Oh, and south of Hammondsport is the Glenn Curtiss museum. Curtiss turned from motorcycle racing to aviation around 1904, and the place is basically a warehouse full of early biplanes, motorcycles, and whatnot. Very informal & fun.
posted by mr vino at 3:02 PM on March 11, 2014

If Ithaca is within your range, my very favorite in all of the region is the upper area of the Robert H. Treman State Park. Absolutely a highlight.

And then if you feel the need to check it off, there's always the Moosewood restaurant. (There are other places in Ithaca that I enjoy more, but this is a must-do if you've never been before...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:33 PM on March 11, 2014

Oh and I forgot to add, we got married at Sheldrake Point Winery so I have a soft spot for that.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:35 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The women's rights national historical park in Seneca falls, the corning museum of glass and Rockwell museum of western art in corning and the Johnson museum of art at Cornell.
posted by brujita at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2014

Seconding Fingerlakes Distillery. In the *cough* several wine tasting expeditions I did in the Fingerlakes, the distillery was definitely the #1 highlight. (Full disclosure... it came at the end of a long day of tasting and, this advice may not be 100% applicable to sober people.)
posted by BrashTech at 7:54 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, today is a loss because of the weather, but we hope to make it to Finger Lakes Distillery and Two Goats tomorrow!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:27 AM on March 12, 2014

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