The Finger Lakes – wine and culinary center of New York

Vineyards with Morning Dew

Finger Lakes Vineyards with Morning Dew

New York’s Finger Lakes region has been described by Wine Spectator as the wine and culinary epicenter of New York. On a recent visit there I discovered why; the Finger Lakes beats Napa and Sonoma hands down and literally knocked my sox off with its vineyards, history, culture, gardens, gorgeous lakes, charming accommodations, unique shops and great restaurants.

Canandaigua Wine Trail
I started my visit in Canandaigua; along this picturesque town’s Main Street are several shops that spoke to me.  F. Oliver’s is a place for a different kind of tastings of a different kind; olive oils and vinegars. This place is very chic, from its highly polished floors to its retro brick walls lined with tin spouted Fusti from which I sampled infused oils and vinegars.  A stop at Sweet Expressions did the trick for cleansing my palate on some of their decadent dark chocolate ganache truffles.

Armed with my Canandaigua Wine Trail map I followed country roads meandering through small towns to several of the area’s premier vineyards.

My first tasting was at Casa Larga an award winning vineyard that has been owned by the Colaruotolo family since 1976 and is famous for Fiori Ice Wine.

The next stop was the Wilhelmus Estate Winery known for their vinifera and hybrid varieties. From there it was on to the pretty little town of Bristol and Heron Hill Winery and some of their Rieslings and Chardonnays.

Main Street in Canandaigua

Main Street in Canandaigua

In Naples I hit the jack pot with two vineyards and an artisans’ shop.  At Arbor Hill I tasted some of their Traminette, a spicy-sweet white wine.  Although it is grown widely in Europe, Arbor Hill is the only vineyard in the United States that produces Traminette.  At Inspire Moore Winery I sipped one of their sauvignon blancs while viewing art by local artisans. After that it was time to shop. Artizanns, housed in a 19th century Victorian, offers a stunning array of pottery, hand- blown glass, sculptures, clothing and jewelry created by some 200 Finger Lakes artists.

More to Do
Now, even I can’t drink wine all day long (although there are days when I probably would like to), so I made detours to places along the way that interested me.

At Red Jacket Orchards I sampled some of their refreshing fruit juices.  Started in 1917,  today it is run by the third generation of the Nickerson family. Everything is grown and bottled here on their 650 acres of orchards producing thirty varieties of apples along with acres of strawberry patches, peach, cherry and apricot trees.

Ganondagan State Historic Site, situated on a glacial drumlin, is one of the oldest Native American villages in the United States. This Seneca town site dates to the 17th century and was the largest Seneca complex of its time,

Ganondagan State Historic Site

Ganondagan State Historic Site

4,500 people lived here, making it larger than Jamestown, Virginia.

Opened to the public in 1984, the present day Seneca tribe is building a new 20,000 sq. ft. art and education center.  The new center will have geo-thermal heating and cooling, almost the same as what the first Seneca people used.

Here I walked across peaceful trails dotted with interpretational signs, and visited a reconstructed bark longhouse that showed how extended Seneca families lived together under one roof.  It was customary for the man to move into the woman’s family home when they married. Research shows that 150 longhouses existed when the Seneca tribe lived here.

To quote Julia Child “Life itself is the proper binge” and I did just that. Along with sipping great wines I dined on excellent food. One of my favorites was the Brown Hound Bistro in Naples.  In her tiny upstairs kitchen in a rustic 100-year old house chef/owner Trish Aser turns out delectable dishes such as scallops seasoned with mandarin oranges and Thai chili sauce, almond crusted chicken with Arbor Hill Winery’s amaretto cream sherry and pork chops stuffed with New York cheddar and apples.

Rose Hill Mansion National Historic Landmark

Rose Hill Mansion National Historic Landmark

At Rose Hill National Historic Landmark built in 1839, my tour guide explained the history of the building and its owners; Robert Swan and his family. The mansion’s twenty rooms are filled with Empire style furnishings; on the walls hang original paintings by Rembrandt Peale and Severin Roesen.

Around the corner from Rose Hill is the Johnston House and Drain Tile Museum.  This was the home of John Johnston, the “father of the tile drainage system” in farming. Robert Swan was a student of Johnston’s and used his tile drains on his 300 acre farm at Rose Hill.  The museum gives the history of tile drainage irrigation in the United States and contains drainage tiles dating from 500 B.C. to present day.

Another stop along the wine trail was the Finger Lakes Wine Center at Sonnenberg Gardens.  Unlike the colorful, airy tasting rooms of the other wineries Sonnenberg’s is old world style with lots of dark woods where I sunk into a comfortable leather chair to enjoy my afternoon cooler, an icy cold 2009 Eclipse White Chardonnay from Heron Hill winery.

Sonnenberg’s nine gardens, spread out over fifty acres, are laid out as rooms that lead up to an 1887 Queen Anne style mansion built for wealthy financier Frederick Ferris Thompson and his wife.  Guided and self-guided tours of the mansion are available. I opted for a guided tour to get the full history of the mansion and the Thompsons.

The Ferris Mansion, built 1887, Sonnenberg Gardens

The Ferris Mansion, built 1887, Sonnenberg Gardens

Topping Off the Trip
On my last night I pulled out my little black dress for dinner at Geneva On The Lake.  This stunning 1914 Italianate villa sits on acres of rolling lawns and English style gardens overlooking Seneca Lake.  Everything here, from dining on the terrace with beautiful gardens and the lake as a backdrop to enjoying the bounties of the region; the excellent wines accompanied by spectacular food was worth the splurge.  It was the perfect ending to my trip through this beautiful region.

More Information
There are a plethora of accommodations to choose from in the Finger Lakes, to numerous to mention.  For a complete listing contact the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, 1-877-386-4669


Casa Larga

Wilhelmus Estate Winery

Heron Hill Winery

Arbor Hill Winery

Inspire Moore Winery

Finger Lakes Wine Center at Sonnenberg Gardens

Things to do

Canandaigua Wine Trail

F. Oliver’s

Sweet Expressions

New York Wine & Culinary Center


Red Jacket Orchards

Ganondagan State Historic Site

Rose Hill Mansion

Johnston House and Drain Tile Museum

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion


Brown Hound Bistro

Geneva On The Lake

Photo Credit: Finger Lakes Visitors Connection

Frances FolsomGuest writer Frances J. Folsom lives and writes in beautiful New England. She has written for many print magazines and has contributed to a range of travel guides. Frances can be reached by e-mail or through her personal blog. She lives in Cambridge Massachusetts.


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