Millenia ago, glaciers gouged grooves in New York's hillsides, creating the Finger Lakes and a perfect microclimate for grapes. The first European explorers were surprised to find wild vines covering the terrain around Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Keuka Lake. In the early 1800s, Reverend William Bostwick planted the first European vines. Over a hundred years later, in the 1960s, Dr. Konstantin Frank combined Riesling vines with American rootstock. At around the same time, Keuka Lake's Pleasant Valley Wine Company became the first U.S. Bonded Winery.

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Since then, vineyards and wineries have become increasingly important to the region's economy. Now travelers can visit places like Wagner Vineyards, one of the largest establishments in the region. Grapes are so important to the area that grape pie has become an iconic Finger Lakes dessert. Travelers should follow the wine trails around Keuka and Cayuga lakes and taste the distinctive wines created by the Finger Lakes' terroir.

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Keuka Lake Wine Trail

According to the Finger Lakes Website, Keuka Lake is the site of American-winemaking history. It is home to both the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, the oldest winery in the region, and Dr. Konstantin Frank's vineyard.

Travelers can drive around the lake in about an hour and a half. They'll cover about 60 miles. The drive includes views of forests, lakeshores, and waterfalls. Most importantly, the route will take them past some of the region's most distinctive wineries:

  • Dr. Konstantin Frank
  • Domain LeSuerre Winery
  • Hunt Country Vineyards*
  • Heron Hill Winery*
  • Keuka Spring Vineyards*
  • McGregor Vineyard
  • Pleasant Valley Wine Company
  • Rooster Hill Vineyards
  • Vineyard View Winery*
  • Weis Vineyards*
  • Stever Hill Vineyards*

The wineries with asterisks are part of the official Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.

Dr. Konstantin Frank is a must-see on this trail. This vineyard and winery share the name of the plant sciences specialist who moved from Ukraine to the U.S. He worked at Cornell University in the nearby Ithica, New York. The scientist experimented by combining Riesling vines with American rootstock to make hardier plants. Today, his historic vineyard produces some of the best Riesling in the U.S. People voted in USA Today 10-Best survey and named the Dr. Kontantin Frank tasting room as one of the best in the country.

Wine enthusiasts will already know of Hunt Country Vineyards for their award-winning ice wines. This winery is one of the longest-standing producers of authentic ice wine in the US. That means that winemakers harvest the grapes after they've naturally frozen on the vine. This drives up the Brix, or sugar in the fruit creating delicious dessert wines.

The official Keuka Lake Wine Trail Passport includes six wineries. These have an asterisk next to their names in the bullet list above. For a one-time fee, visitors buy tastings at all of the participating vineyards and wineries. The passport is cheaper than purchasing separate tastings at each location.

It is worth noting that the tastings included with wine passports are generally shorter and cover fewer wines. People interested in trying specific wines or long-format tastings should inquire if these come with the package before investing in a wine passport. People who like leisurely wine tastes can comfortably visit three tasting rooms in a day. Those who want to keep busy might be able to fit six winery visits into a 24-hour period, but they'd have to rush.

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 Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

Cayuga Lake is the most eastern of the Finger Lakes wine trails. Driving around the lake itself takes about two hours and the loop is around 80 miles. People consider this "America's First Wine Trail" since some of the vineyards in the area are older than those in Sonoma and Napa, California. In 1983, for the first time in US history, these wineries formed a group to support each other and attract more visitors.

The wineries around this lake are:

  • Americana Vineyards*
  • Buttonwood Grove Winery*
  • Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery*
  • Goose Watch Winery*
  • Hosmer Winery*
  • Knapp Winery*
  • Long Point Winery*
  • Lucas Vineyards*
  • Montezuma Winery*
  • Sheldrake Point Winery
  • Six Eighty Winery*
  • Six Mile Creek Vineyard*
  • Swedish Hill Winery*
  • Thirsty Owl Wine Company*
  • Toro Run Winery
  • Treleaven by King Ferry Winery
  • Varick Winery and Vineyard*

Visitors can explore this wine trail by boat. For $129, wine lovers can take the Water to Wine Tour. The ride lasts about six hours. Participants visit three wineries and dine in a lakeshore restaurant. The best part is that no one has to worry about being the designated driver.

Wine drinkers will find heaven when they visit Keuka and Cayuga Lakes. Just imagine sipping wine at sunset with a panoramic view of Seneca Lake. That's taking it easy!

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