Places

48 Hours on Seneca Lake: A Vintner Project Guide

By August 10, 2019 No Comments

You love wine. I do too – this isn’t a secret. You want to visit the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, 4-5 hours northwest of New York City (depending which part of the region you’re headed to). You book a trip! (YAY!) But then you realize that the two days you have are not nearly enough to taste everything – which is where I come in. I’ve lived here many years, and outside of writing about Finger Lakes wine for this here site, and others, I spend a large amount of time keeping up with local, New York, Finger Lakes wine because, quite frankly, I just really enjoy it. So, my knowledge, becomes your knowledge.

The terroir, the climate, the people, the community – I love it all – but if there wasn’t great, world class wine, well, there wouldn’t be a renowned wine region, really. So here’s the problem: 150-200 producers line these lakes, mainly on Cayuga, Keuka, and Seneca lakes. Not all of them have tasting rooms though, and quite frankly, not all are making “good” wine. So let’s say there are still 100-125 that do have tasting rooms…but you only have 2 days in the FLX, the affectionate abbreviation for “Finger Lakes.” What do you do? That’s where I come in and that’s where this “48 Hours” article comes in.

A few things: I’m assuming (A) you REALLY love wine. As in, you aren’t here for the sugar-laden slushies and bachelor/bachelorette party wineries, at least not for this trip. And (B), you are interested in great Riesling, but also interested in red and rosé options as well. I’m going to help you with your two-days on Seneca Lake specifically, this time, we’ll get to other lakes another time, friends.

I’m assuming you either hired a driver, or are sharing tastings, or spitting or dumping your wine along the way. With those assumptions, you should be able to taste at 3 or 4 wineries each day (but if you are more comfortable doing less, that’s fine!) and still have time for dinner and a hike or two, so I’ll give you 5 suggestions on each side of the lake. Depending on your specific interests and taste, narrow it down to 3 or 4 (of the 5) from there.

Where to Stay

First off, this is a very, very rural region. In my previous piece (An Insider’s Guide To Finger Lakes Wine),you’ll note that I mention getting provisions, gas, and using the facilities when you can, as you can’t count on a rest stop. In fact, there’s a better chance you’ll get stuck behind an Amish horse-drawn buggy before you find that gas station.

If you don’t want to rent a property (Airbnb, VRBO, Finger Lakes Premier Properties, etc.) near the lake, or a lake house on a shore of Seneca Lake, your best bet will be a hotel. Geneva, NY is probably your safest bet, with large hotel chains, and some smaller hotels as well. Watkins Glen has a few too, but keep in mind they are at the complete opposite sides of Seneca Lake.

Where to Taste

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll go east side and west side of Seneca Lake, but you could easily split this up as Northern (half of) Seneca and Southern Seneca in one day.

Day 1 (Westside)

RAVINES WINE CELLARS

Tasting Room @ Ravines (Photo Credit: Ravines Wine Cellars)

We’re starting off at “Ravines” in Geneva, NY. Note that they have two locations! So if you are putting it in your phone, yes, two should come up! If you’re on Seneca already, the Geneva location will be fastest. They have great distribution, but they also have something for everyone. When someone asks me about classic FLX Dry Riesling, the first thing that comes to mind is Ravines. They’re one of the originals, if you will (amongst friends, I go “OG,” but that’s between you and me). They also make some delicious Pinot Noir, Bordeaux style blends, Chardonnay, and traditional method sparkling as well. In addition to the Dry Riesling, make sure to try those too!

Must try: Dry Riesling, try different ones, there are different options from different vineyards and vintages — if you’ve had one, you haven’t had them all!

400 Barracks Rd, Geneva, NY 14456; (315) 781-7007; ravineswine.com

HERMANN J WIEMER

Cab Franc @ Hermann J. Wiemer (Photo Credit: Adrian Prieto)

Again, another one of the originals to really put this region on the map. Another well-known commodity. Many people suggest their style is Germanic – which is a compliment – with later pickings, more botrytis, etc. But the fact of the matter is that they really do have a large array of options, from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Pinot Noir, and some delicious traditional method sparkling too. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Wiemer” as one of the premier sparkling producers in the US in years to come. As you might guess, though, it’s more difficult to taste those, but I do recommend buying some for your box to take home.

Must try: Late harvest and “Noble Select” Riesling. Pro-tip: If you want to try reserve bottles, there are many that are NOT on the regular tasting menu – make an appointment ahead of time, if you really want to try the special stuff – do not show up expecting to try “everything” without an appointment.

3962 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837; (607) 243-7971; wiemer.com

HICKORY HOLLOW AND NATHAN K

Nathan Kendall (Photo Credit: Rachel Orlyk)

Hickory Hollow is a winery on the west side of Seneca Lake. Nathan Kendall is the winemaker there, it also happens to be his family’s winery. However, he also has his own line (Nathan K.) which you can taste at Hickory Hollow. Nathan K has some killer Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, and Pinot Noir, and he’s not afraid to take risks to see what works – which I fully support. Nathan (last year) was a 40 under 40 in the wine industry in the United States in Wine Enthusiast.  Hickory Hollow has additional options, including a stunning Cabernet Franc, amongst others.

Must try: Hickory Hollow Cabernet Franc, Hickory Hollow rosévs Nathan K rosé, Nathan K Chardonnay, Nathan K Pinot Noir.

5289 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837; (607) 243-9114; hickoryhollowwine.net

SHAW VINEYARD

Steve Shaw (Photo Credit: Shaw Vineyard)

Steve Shaw, owner and winemaker, is another stalwart of the region. There is a mix of white and red: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and sometimes an orange wine (most recently, a Pinot Grigio with 22 months of skin contact, but don’t get your hopes up. When it’s gone, it’s gone.) Additionally, Shaw is one of the few to age red wine in the Finger Lakes. In June of 2019, Shaw’s Cabernet Sauvignon is a 2011 vintage, the Cabernet Franc is a 2013 vintage, and the Bordeaux style blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) is a 2010 vintage. If you want some of the best red wine coming out of the Finger Lakes, don’t miss Shaw. However, this is not your fancy tasting room with lunch or tapas, etc. There is wine to taste, and wine to purchase, and that’s it. But, it’s truly some of the top red wine in the entire region – not just Seneca Lake.

Must try: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Keuka Lake Red Blend (Bordeaux style blend: CS, CF, Merlot)

3901 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837; (607) 243-7000; shawvineyard.com

KEMMETER WINERY

Owners Johannes and Imelda Reinhardt (Photo Credit: Kemmeter Wines)

Kemmeter is one of the few wineries that you absolutely need a reservation. You’ll be politely turned away – with a smile – without one. Johannes Reinhardt, owner and winemaker, is originally from Germany and has worked in the Finger Lakes for over two decades at both his own winery and other wineries in the area as well. There’s Riesling, Pinot Blanc, roséof Pinot Noir, and later this year, there may be a Gewürztraminerand Pinot cuvée. His tastings are very small, an intimate, personal, and personalized experience, and not to be missed if you want a taste of Germany with Finger Lakes fruit. Don’t miss the Pinot Blanc! Reservations can be made via email or phone, but you do need one, and you do need to make it well in advance!

Must try: All of them. Really. Kemmeter is so small, that depending on when you visit, there might only be 4 options to try, or there might be 6; but either way, each bottle is held until it’s ready for Johannes to have you (and the rest of the world) taste it – so just go with it.

1030 Larzelere Rd, Penn Yan, NY 14527; (315) 521-3897; kemmeterwines.com

Depending on what you enjoy more, aged red or Riesling, I’d narrow down my last spot to either Shaw or Kemmeter.

Day 2 (Eastside)

RYAN WILLIAM VINEYARD

(Photo Credit: Adrian Pietro)

Ryan William (Vineyard), both the name of the winery and the namesake himself, is the winemaker, (grape) grower/farmer, and it’s a family business, with his wife running the kitchen/restaurant they have. Small production, less than 2,000 cases each year; however, his wine is easily one of the most underrated, to me. You don’t see it pop up on various wine publications much; often that’s because of the size of a winery and the resources available (or not available) to them. Another – one of the few – producers who ages Cabernet Franc and red wine more than other producers in the area, even larger producers that I mentioned above. Additionally, a top Pinot Noir, Merlot, Grüner Veltliner, and a must-try Riesling ice wine, when it’s available. Let me put it to you this way, earlier this year I had a wine-industry dinner with people that had never been here before. I wanted to bring a red wine, since everyone has had FLX Riesling. What did I bring? Ryan William, Cabernet Franc, 2014. 

Must try: Cabernet Franc, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir; if they have it – the Riesling ice wine. Pro tip: They have a full restaurant. I’d plan to have a good lunch there, in addition to a formal tasting.

4156 NY-414, Burdett, NY 14818; (607) 882-9098; ryanwilliam.com

BARRY FAMILY CELLARS

Tasting Room @ Barry Family Cellars (Photo Credit: Barry Family Cellars)

Ian Barry, owner/winemaker of his family winery, has been making wine over two decades. He consults at other local wineries, but also has his own tasting room, for his winery, “BFC.” It’s easily one of my favorites. It’s not on the main drag directly on Seneca Lake (it’s just a few minutes “off” the main drag) but is a 200-year-old building that was previously a post office, amongst many other things over the years. There’s a record player – you can choose the music if you like, and he supports other (very small) producers by selling their wines as well. But, his wine has only improved every year now. Red blends, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pétillant Naturel(pét-nat) options, and more. It’s a must-try, to me, for people who truly love and “nerd-out” about wine. When I have friends visiting that truly love and understand good wine, I take them to Barry Family Cellars. 

Must try: Reserve Chardonnay, Reserve Gewürztraminer, red blends and red wines available – depending on when you visit.

 3821 Main St, Burdett, NY 14818; (607) 569-2352; barryfamilywines.com

FORGE CELLARS

The Lineup @ Forge Cellars (Photo Credit: Adrian Pietro

Forge has only been around a few years, but they aren’t newcomers. The owners – Louis Barruol, Rick Rainey, and Justin Boyette – have all been in the business for many years. Louis Barruol, a fourteenth generation winemaker from the Rhone, teamed up with Rainey and Boyette, locally. Forge has had top 100 wines (Wine Spectator), and they only produce Riesling and Pinot Noir. The 2018 vintage has 10 different Riesling options, 4 Pinot Noir options, and a roséof Pinot Noir. The release of  2018 Rieslings and Pinot Noir will be staggered, but it’s valuable to taste them next to each other, as they come from different vineyards with different terroir.  Forge Cellars is one of the few, now, to have Riesling partially in oak. Forge also has some of the best distribution, international and domestic; however, there are many that you can only taste and purchase on site, because the production is so low. You need an appointment! You can make your appointment online, via the form on their website only. 

Must try: Whatever is available to taste, really. You’ll know what you’re having, but you won’t have a choice, per say, like at other large wineries where you have 40 options and you can choose 5 to taste. 

3775 Mathews Rd, Burdett, NY 14818; (607) 622-8020; forgecellars.com

BLOOMER CREEK

Kim Engle and Debra Bermingham (Photo Credit: David Bowler Wine)

I love Bloomer Creek. Kim Engle and Debra Bermingham are the husband wife duo/couple behind Bloomer Creek, and they’ve been here doing it a long time.  Their style, to me, is decidedly Alsatian and Germanic for some, and “natural” (or both) for other options. Natural wine gets people going, some people get really riled up about it – but it’s not all for hipsters with wiry glasses and tight jeans, there’s legit, delicious wine being made with limited or no intervention. This is to say that there is well-made, structured, balanced, natural wine out there – and this is one of the places where you’ll find some. When someone asks about my personal favorite wineries to visit – Bloomer Creek is consistently at the top of my list. I get giddy each time I visit, and am eager to take my (good) friends there, because I love it so much. They have limited hours though, and they are closed in the winter, so be certain you check that they are open before showing up! 

Must try: It depends when you visit and what’s available. Right now, an “orange” Gewürztramineris incredible, previously a Pinot Noir, a Spätlese (late harvest)equivalent Riesling, etc. However, like at other small producers, you’ll taste what’s available or what they are pouring – like above, you won’t be able to choose 5 from a list of 40 bottles. 

5301 NY-414, Hector, NY 14841; (607) 546-5027; bloomercreek.com

SHALESTONE VINEYARDS

(Photo Credit: Shalestone Vineyards)

Shalestone is another small producer. They are also only open seasonally; however, they are the only producer in the Finger Lakes (not just Seneca Lake) who *ONLY* produces red wine. In fact, their slogan is: “We Only Do Red.” They have some great vineyards, great fruit, and a great location with unique terroir – which is why they are able to have success with varietals that other producers can’t grow, or can’t grow as well. There are a good number of blends, Bordeaux style blends, blends with Lemberger, single varietal Syrah (one of maybe 8-10 in the FLX), single varietal Zweigelt (one of 3 in the FLX), and one of the few single varietal Saperavi options too – my favorite single varietal Saperavi.

Must try: Saperavi, Zweigelt, and the Syrah.

9681 NY-414, Lodi, NY 14860; (607) 582-6600; shalestonevineyards.com

Depending on what you want more, your 4thoption comes down to Bloomer Creek or Shalestone!

Where to Eat

There are some great dining options directly along the wine trail. These are a few of my favorites.

Stonecat Café. Full sit-down meals. Reservations recommended. In Hector, NY, on the east side of Seneca Lake. 

The Elf in the Oak. Quick café, sandwiches and wraps, etc. In Burdett, NY, on the southeast side of Seneca Lake. 

FLX Wienery: A staple for food and wine on the west side of Seneca Lake, part of FLX Hospitality (that has additional options in Geneva, NY).

Ports Café: Near Geneva, on the west side of Seneca Lake. 

Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca. In Lodi, NY, on the eastside of Seneca Lake. 

Many wineries also have small snacks and cheese plates, etc. A few even have full restaurants!

With all wineries and restaurants on the wine trails (along the lake), make sure to double check hours! Many are only open on the weekends. Some are closed in the winter. Some are strictly by appointment only! And if you happen to be here in the winter – everything might close if there is a big snow storm!

There’s a significant amount of world-class, cool-climate wine here. If you have a focus of Seneca Lake, and you really love wine, this is where you need to start your 48 Hours on Seneca Lake.