September 5, 2002

Finger Lake'n Good

Print More

While turning 21 is a special occasion for all Americans, it’s even more exciting as a Cornell student living in Ithaca. What’s so special about legal and going to school upstate? Ithaca is located on the periphery of Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. Unbeknownst to many students, we are located near the center of a wine region that is quickly garnering attention in the national and international wine market. There’s no better way to take advantage of the surroundings, a newly-minted ID, and one of the lastwarm-weather weekends than to go for a wine tasting tour.

Almost 70 wineries surround Keuka, Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Besides being picturesque, the lakes benefit wine-growing. They cool down the region in the summer and warm it in the winter, keeping the growing season temperate. Not surprisingly, since Seneca Lake is the deepest and widest of the Finger Lakes, it also boasts the most wineries.

Last Saturday, a car-load of friends (including a designated driver) and I headed out on Route 79-West to Seneca Lake. Many of the wineries that you many have heard of- Glenora, Hermann J. Wiemar Vineyard and Fox Run for example- are situated on the west side of the lake. Since dozens more are located on the closer, eastern edge, we just decided to follow Route 414-North. While we were all eager to experiment, we knew little about the wineries we were about to explore.

The first stop was the Chateau Lafayette Reneau. It claims to be the “most photographed winery in New York State” and we could clearly see why– the tasting room looked out upon lush acreage of grapes and Seneca Lake. Despite the region’s laid-back approach to the wine business, Chateau Lafayette Reneau took its wine tasting seriously and charges $3 to sample 11 wines. The winery drew a large crowd leaving the tasting sessions rather impersonal, but nonetheless, we got to sample two notable wines: 2001 Johannisberg Riesling and the 1999 Pinot Noir.

Just a bit further up Route 414-North, was Leidenfrost Vineyard. Compared with Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Leidenfrost ran a small operation. The tasting room has a feel consistent with Finger Lakes’ folksy attitude–the shells from snacking peanuts littered the floor and amateur oil paintings hung on the walls. While pouring us samples of wine, a staff member told us how the 25 acres are harvested by hand, showing us some callouses. While none of their wines appealed to my taste, their atmosphere certainly did.

As a change of pace, we stopped at Rasta Ranch Vineyards. The tasting room was actually a converted barn where patrons not only sample wine but also, as you might have guessed, shop for second hand clothes, incense, and music. With wines called “Piece of My Heart,” “Purple Haze” and “Ja’maca Me Blush” the ranch seemed like it belonged more on The Commons than on vineyard-row.

Finally, on the drive back home, we stopped at Atwater Estate Vineyards. Run by Vinny Aliperti and Phil Hazlitt, of Hazlitt Vineyards, Atwater is only two years old but has distinguished roots. Their wines were consistently drinkable with nice dry and semi-dry Riselings, fruity reds such as the Reserve Red and a Meritage.

I was partial to Atwater simply because it combined the best aspects of the Finger Lakes: decent wine, spendid vistas, and convivial company. If the monotony of running around Collegetown leaves you high and dry, wine tasting is an excellent break that offers a new environment and new people from wine connoisseurs to hippies to students like you.

Archived article by Diana Lind