Wine Travel – Finger Lakes and the Canandaigua Wine Trail

Situated in west central New York, the Finger Lakes region is an ideal destination for anyone.  Families, couples, senior citizens, and college kids will all feel at home here.  It’s a four season area with numerous outdoor activities and a natural bounty derived from a delightful mix of elements.

The Finger Lakes themselves are a phenomenon.  They are actually glacial lakes, formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers which carved the earth.  Looking at a map, the lakes look like fingers – long and narrow, stretching from north to south.  There are 11 in the region by our count, with the two largest, Cayuga and Seneca, forming the centerpiece.

The region is filled with valleys, rolling hills, and spectacular scenery, especially in autumn.  Charming small towns abound, and there’s a sense of artistry here, perhaps inspired by the surroundings.  To pinch a phrase from the Finger Lakes Visitor’s Guide, it’s a scenic partnership of Napa Valley and Scotland here.  I’ll take their word for it, but if Scotland is half as pretty as the Finger Lakes, I’d like to go tomorrow!

It’s easy to get to the Finger Lakes region, which is situated just south of the New York State Thruway (I-90).  You’re about a 90 minute drive from either Rochester or Syracuse, two underrated cities that warrant a visit.

Canandaigua Wine Trail

Canandaigua is a real slice of Americana, with an historic downtown and all sorts of unique places to visit.  Our first eagerly anticipated stop was the New York Wine and Culinary Center, on Main Street in Canandaigua.

The NYWCC is a perfect place to get acquainted with New York wine and food.  The emphasis here is to educate visitors about New York’s rich wine, food, and culinary traditions.  You can take a class here, enjoy a wine dinner, learn what a sommelier does, and much more.  There’s an educational theater and a hands on kitchen where you can create your own masterpiece.  Also, don’t miss the New York Garden located outside the building.  Depending on the season, you might find grapes ready to pick, apples, tomatoes, or any number of other native crops.

Wilhelmus Estate Winery

Open since 2007, Wilhelmus Estate Winery is the pride of Buon and Karen Keunen, who named the winery after Buon’s father.  We loved their Cayuga White, a light, fruity white offering.  Even better in our estimation was the Free Run Traminette.  “Free run” is a term used to describe the situation when the grape picking process ruptures the skin of some of the grapes.  The juice from those grapes collects in the transport containers, resulting in a high concentration of sugars, fruit esters, and tannins.  We particularly enjoyed the spiciness of this wine, and thought it would be a superb companion for a pork dish or a stir fry.

Just a general comment about these Finger Lakes wineries … each of them offers unbelieveable scenery.  A better word is stunning. It’s like Mother Nature’s best here, with fresh clean air and valleys cascading down to the lakes.  The soil is rich, the climate invigorating.  You really need to experience this area to truly feel all it offers to your senses.

Finger Lakes Wineries In Naples

At the extreme southern end of Canandaigua Lake, you’ll find the charming village of Naples and the Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery. Arbor Hill is about an inviting a place as can be.  The main building looks kind of like a country cottage, white clapboard with a big sign above the awning. 

Once inside, it becomes even more inviting.  There’s a beautiful gift shop where you can peruse all sorts of Finger Lakes specialty products, from grape pies to apparel to housewares.  But the star here is the wine.

Our first taste was one of Arbor Hill’s newer wines, the Vergenne.  We hadn’t heard of this style before, and it’s reminiscent of a Riesling in some ways, especially the crisp finish.  We learned this wine is made with a grape that’s part Lambrusco, so essentially this is a white wine made with a red grape.  A new one on us, but decidedly tasty!  And at less than $11 a bottle, it’s a best buy.

Another variety we’d never tried before was Arbor Hill’s Sparkling Chardonnay.  Dry like a Chardonnay but effervescent like a good sparkling wine, it’s a perfect match of two styles.

We absolutely loved Onnalinda White, a mix of Cayuga White, Traminette, and Vidal.  We expected this to be sweet, but it’s only mildly so, an easy drinker that joined us for our trip home.

Imagine Moore and Widmer

With a unique name and a gorgeous setting, Imagine Moore Winery was next on our list.  They are housed in a restored barn that dates back to Civil War times, with a panoramic view of Naples Valley from the wrap around deck. We even encountered a few olive trees just off the patio. 

Here’s where you should come to buy a great dry Riesling.  The name, Joy, fits perfectly.  The mix of fruit flavors and aromas is everything a Riesling should be.  Of all the wines at Imagine Moore, don’t miss this one.

Since we’re always searching for wisdom, we felt compelled to try Imagine Moore’s Cabernet Franc.  Its name is really Wisdom.  And it was a smart choice indeed, a tasty, complex, fruit forward wine that we felt would pair well with pasta dishes.  P.S. – it does!

This was an ideal spot for a bit of afternoon relaxing.  Words don’t do the setting justice.  The air is fragrant and fresh, with a warm valley breeze.  We immediately knew why so many things grow here, as it seems this area is blessed with all the natural resources required.  Also of note, Imagine Moore partners with the Brown Hound Bistro for wine tasting dinners and events.  We didn’t make one, but we can’t fathom how you’d go wrong.  

Last but certainly not least on our day trip to Naples was a visit to Widmer Wine Cellars.  Widmer is one of the largest and most successful wineries in the United States.  You may be aware of the Manischewitz brand – it’s produced here. 

We highly recommend a tour of this bustling, modern facility.  It’s about 45 minutes in length, and you’ll see everything.  Of course, you’ll end up in the tasting room and gift shop!  When you’re here, try Widmer’s Lake Niagara Harvest Blush, an easy sipper you’ll want to take to your next picnic.  The gift shop is equally appealing, with shelves stacked with wine gifts, jellies, juices, and gourmet treats.

Final Thoughts

New York’s Finger Lakes area is an ideal destination for wine travel lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and artisans.  There’s a little something for everyone here, including spectacular scenery and a peaceful, relaxed pace.  Whether it’s a family vacation or just a weekend getaway, you’re sure to find the Finger Lakes a welcoming travel destination.