The Finger Lake region is a beautiful area in central New York State. It has a series of long slender lakes that look like fingers from the air–well, maybe like a lot of fingers. And several of the lakes are surrounded by grape vines.
As we grew up in this area, we always loved the scenery but have never been particularly impressed by its wines. Fortunately things have changed. Not only are there a great many more wineries in the area now, but the quality has improved. And in addition to wineries, the area is also home to many breweries.
Finger Lake Wines
The Finger Lakes is New York State’s largest wine-producing region. It produces wine from a wide variety of cool climate grape varietals–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. However, it is especially known for its Rieslings which are characterized by aromas of citrus, apple, and chalky minerality.
Although our experiences with the region’s drier white and red wines have been very mixed, we have consistently enjoyed a number of the region’s Iced Wines. Note the word “Iced” versus “Ice”. State regulation requires that wines can be called “Ice Wines” only if the grapes are picked after 24 hours in which temperatures are 17 degrees or lower. When wineries artificially ice their wines in freezers rather than in mother nature, they have to label them as “iced”.
Most of the wineries (and breweries) are clustered around Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. The following is a combination of reviews from multiple visits to the area, most recently updated from our 2022 visit.
Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes at just under 40 miles long. The cities of Ithaca, Seneca Falls, Aurora, Interlaken, Trumansburg and Union are near it.
Knapp Winery (Romulus NY)
We found four favorites here. On the dry-side were the 2021 concrete egg-aged Chardonnay, 2021 Dry Vidal, and of the reds, the 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon. Our favorite sweet wine was the 2021 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine with 2.5% residual sugar. The winery also offers a wide range of its own distilled spirits (including flavored vodkas and gins, brandies, and ports), its own Limoncello (which was too dry for our tastes), and several beers from local craft breweries.
Sheldrake Point Winery (Ovid, NY)
Despite not being fans of most roses, we began with a 2021 Dry Rose of Cabernet Franc. This wine has become so popular that today it accounts for almost half the winery’s 7,200 case production. After tasting them it we are still not rose fans. But we did enjoy three of the six Rieslings that they were tasting. These ranged from the dry (0.55% residual sugar or RS) Wild Ferment Dry Riesling, the sweeter, fruitier 2019 Reserve Riesling (roughly 6% RS), and the 2019 Riesling Ice Wine (roughly 12% RS). We also enjoyed the 2017 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and one of several Beta Series wines (which are small batches of wines with which the winemaker experiments). Although we found two of the Beta Series Rieslings somewhat acidic for our tastes, we had no qualms with the 2018 Beta Series 2019 Late Harvest Pinot Gris.
Keuka Lake is a Y-shaped lake with glacial soils. Penn Yam is at the northeastern tip of the lake. Branchport is at the northwestern portion and Hammondsport is at the south end.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery (Hammondport)
Founded in 1962, Dr. Frank was the most famed vintner in and the person most responsible for bringing vinifere grapes to the region. The winery has some of the oldest vines in New York State with vines going back to 1958. While it has some interesting wines, our palates did not find anything that stood out to us.
Heron Hill Winery (Canandaigua Lake)
Located on the western shore of Keuka Lake (it also has another facility on Seneca Lake), the winery focuses on Chardonnay and Rieslings. We previously enjoyed its iced wines, but it doesn’t always produce them. On our 2018 visit, we tasted a number of whites and reds. We particularly enjoyed two of its single vineyard, Ingle Vineyard wines:
- 2016 Ingle Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay; and
- 2015 Ingle Vineyard The Chosen Spot, which is a bend of its best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grapes.
Seneca Lake Wineries
Seneca Lake starts from the north end of Geneva to goes to the southern end of Watkins Glen. It is the deepest of the Finger Lakes and has good soil for growing grapes.
About 60 of the region’s roughly 150 wineries are located on Seneca Lake. Along with Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake is the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, and also offers some of the best soil. The lake’s size and depth moderate temperature swings, preventing the lake from freezing over in the winter.
Although we enjoyed some wines from most wineries we visited, two wineries stood out as offering the best overall tasting experiences, the most knowledgeable and helpful hosts and the highest percentage of wines that we particularly enjoyed: Glenora and Hermann J. Wiemer.
Anthony Road Winery (Penn Yan)
Anthony Road Winery originally planted its vines in 1973. Today it sells approximately 50% of its grapes to other wineries and uses the remainder for its own labels. We enjoyed its semi-sweet Reisling and its Cabernet Franc. The winery has a lovely demonstration garden, where you could view a broad range of herbs, vegetables, and flowers and sample grapes fresh from the vines of some of the primary varietals.
Barnstormer Winery (Rock Stream)
On our 2018 visit, we enjoyed the 2016 Departure Bordeaux Blend and 2017 Nosedive Port. Our favorites, however, were the 2017 Blaufrankisch (the Austrian name for the native German Lemberger grape), 2017 late harvest Rieslings: Riesling N6679P (5.5 percent residual sugar), and especially the Late Harvest Riesling (with 16 percent RS).
Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Brewery (Penn Yan)
While not a winery, we wanted to mention Climbing Bines as the Finger Lakes is home to a growing number of breweries. The farm is named after the tall “bines” on which hops are grown. Just what are hop bines? The word has two meanings: It refers to both the individual hope cones and also to the vertically-growing vines on which the hop bines grow. Their tap room provides tastes of the ales they produced, from its light hefeweizen and blonde, through its big Big Ivan’s extra hoppy and malty IPA and dark chocolate and coffee-tasting Stout. For those looking for more exotic tastes, you could try its Tart Cherry and Honey Apricot Ales.
Fulkerson Winery (Dundee)
Fulkerson is somewhat unique in that it makes and sells not only wine but also provides all the supplies and provides guidance required for individuals to make their own wine and brew their own wines at home. It also sells the juice from which home winemakers can make their own wine. Its primary business, however, is in growing its own grapes and producing its own wines, of which it offers about 30. These include not only most of the better-known international varietals, it also produces a number of native New York and hybrid grapes of which we have never heard, much less tasted. These include Vincent, Zweigelt, Dornfelder, and Diamond. Unfortunately, we have not developed a taste for these nor many of Fulkerson’s other wines. We most enjoyed its Dry Riesling.
Glenora Wine Cellars (Dundee)
Glenora focuses on local artisanal wines and foods. They do not have to irrigate, since, unlike in California, it rains steadily throughout the year. This makes for fuller berries and permits yields of about four tons per acre, compared with two or three for many California wineries. (This, of course, also reduces the concentration of Finger Lakes wines.). They are increasing the role of concrete eggs in fermenting and aging their white wines. We enjoyed many of their wines including its Iced Vidal Blanc.
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard (Dundee)
Founded in 1979, the winery was among the first to put the Finger Lakes on the map with its immensely expressive Rieslings.
Herman J. Wiemer brought his love of Alsacian wines to the Finger Lakes. The results, from our experience, were a success. We sampled seven wines and enjoyed every one. Rieslings are the stars of the show and accounted for 12 of the 19 wines on the tasting menu. We tasted four beginning with the 2020 Dry (0.6% residual sugar or RS ), progressed through the more rounded, slightly sweeter (about 0.9% RS), 2020 Magdalena, through the lovely, moderately sweet (6.1% RS) 2020 Josef Vineyard through the sinfully sweet, botrytized 2020 Magnalena Noble Select Dessert wine. While we tend to gravitate to off-dry and sweeter Rieslings, we enjoyed, bought, and look forward to tasting each of them. We ventured off the Riesling track to taste (and appreciate) three of Weimer’s other white offerings, a dry 2002 Gewürztraminer, a 2001 minimally oaked (80% stainless, 20% neutral oak) Chardonnay (as a substitute for the 2020 Gruner Veltliner which was out of stock) and another botrytis Nobel Select dessert wine—the 2020 Magdalena Sauvignon Blanc.
Shaw Vineyards (Himrod)
Shaw is unique among the region’s wineries in that it ages all its red wines for a minimum of four years in varying combinations of stainless steel tanks all neutral (at least two years old) oak barrels before releasing them. We particularly enjoyed its Road Block Reserve Riesling, Oaked Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Standing Stone (Hector)
Standing Stone is located on the east side of Seneca Lake. In 2022, things have changed here since our previous 2018 visit. Wiemer Winery bought Standing Stone and now produces Standing Stone wines from Standing Stone estate grapes and also offers a few of its own wines through Standing Stone. And what about the Standing Stone Iced Wines that we so loved on our last visit? Wiemer nixed them in favor of producing all its own ice wines and offering them only through its own tasting room.
In 2022, we enjoyed three Rieslings: 2020 Herman J. Wiemer Dry Riesling, 2020 Standing Stone Riesling, and the sweet 2018 Herman J. Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling. We also enjoyed the 2020 County Line Gewürztraminer.
On our 2018 visit, we enjoyed three very different expressions of its Rieslings: the 2017 Dry Riesling (with less than 1 percent residual sugar), the 2017 Riesling (1.7 percent), and the very sweet Riesling Ice Wine (23 percent). We also enjoyed the winery’s slightly less sweet 2017 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.
Wagner Vineyard Estate Winery (Lodi)
250-acre estate winery that offers the full gamut of regional varieties: from native and hybrid grapes like Delaware and Cayuga to vinifera like Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir. A wide array of Rieslings are also available, that range from bone-dry to juicy sweet.
Wagner Winery is on the east side of Seneca Lake. The 250-acre estate winery offers the full gamut of regional varieties: from native and hybrid grapes like Delaware and Cayuga to vinifera like Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir. A wide array of Rieslings are also available, that range from bone-dry to juicy sweet.
On our 2022 trip as well as in the past, we particularly enjoyed its Dry Riesling (currently a 2020) and the Unoaked Chardonnay (currently a 2020). We don’t normally like Finger Lakes reds as they normally have less body than what we enjoy. Yet 2020 was one of the best vintages in recent years. We enjoyed Wagner’s spicy 2020 Cabernet Franc, 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2018 Merlot. And what about ice wine? While the temperatures (after sustained periods of temperatures of below 17 degrees Fahrenheit) did allow the production of ice wine (both Vidal and Riesling), Wagner has not been able to get ice wine bottles from suppliers for the last three years. Its ice wines remain in the barrel instead of being sold. Thank goodness ice wines age so well.
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