Fall for Flavor on the Cayuga Wine Trail

Wine tasting at Swedish Hill Vineyards

Autumn in the Finger Lakes is a superb season to take in all the brilliance nature has to offer. The colorful palette of autumn on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail blends with the palate of the unfolding harvest. Visitors can enjoy freshly prepared wines along the Cayuga Lake wine trail in settings ranging from rustic and comfortable to simple and elegant.

Starting at the intersection of Routes 318 and 5 & 20, travelers would proceed south along Route 89 on the west side of Cayuga Lake. Turning right onto County Road 124 and located at the intersection of Route 414 is Swedish Hill Vineyard. This winery produces one of the largest and most diverse array of wines in the Finger Lakes area, extending from dry (“brut”) champagnes, to the “Svenska” line of premium table wines, to its appealing “Radical Raspberry” dessert wine. Visitors can relax and browse in the spacious yet cozy tasting room and gift shop, featuring local cheese products and gourmet items.

Returning to Route 89 and proceeding south, Knapp Winery can be found as one turns right onto Erns­berger Road. Recent remodeling has afforded a larger tasting area to accommodate day travelers or larger tour groups. Knapp offers luscious dry and sweet selections of wines, ports and brandies that have been crafted for all tastes and occasions. It is also one of the few wineries that offers Grappa, an Italian dry liqueur, as well as a more subtle and fruity Cherry Avinac. A seasonal vineyard restaurant offers lunch and dinner with patio and indoor seating, providing a stunning view of beautifully landscaped grounds and vineyards.

Although not an “official” member of the wine trail, for a rustic yet educated change of pace a visit must include a stop at Lakeshore Winery. It is well-suited for a small group of visitors wishing to sample wines with select food prepared on-site, all from the comfort of wood-hewn rockers and settees. Its Cayuga White carries a sweet start and a spicy finish, and can be a versatile wine for all occasions.

Further south on Route 89, Goose Watch Winery presents one of the best views on the lake as well as the region’s most unique selection of premium wines in its elegant tasting room. Its newer grape varieties, Traminette and Melody, were developed by Cornell University, and provide a diverse contrast to their Diamond and Rosé of Isabella, two of the original grape varieties planted in the 1800s in the Finger Lakes region. Goose Watch also produces “the ultimate dessert wine,” its Finale White Port, one of the finest white ports produced in North America.

Three wineries can be found in close proximity farther south on both sides of Route 89. Closer to the lake is Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery, whose dry and mellow Chancellor is an excellent accompaniment to rich veal stew and wild mushrooms or slow-roasted beef tenderloin and shallots. A short distance away is Thirsty Owl Wine Company, dedicated to fine wine, with a fun and friendly atmosphere. Visitors are in for a real “hoot” if Matt is on the premises to conduct the tastings. Despite the harsh winter conditions of 2003, this two-year-old winery is primed to harvest small crops of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the locally rare Syrah.

Farther along on the opposite side of Route 89 and turning right onto County Road 138 is Hosmer Winery. Its white Alpine and Carousel blush are compatible for the visitor who prefers a sweeter wine with robust fruit flavors. Hosmer’s Sangria is a wonderfully fruity alternative to traditional red wine, bursting with lively citrus flavors to liven up any occasion.

For visitors seeking an elegant, upscale experience, a visit to Sheldrake Point Winery and Café is a refreshing destination. Located on County Road 141 off Route 89, its scenic yet secluded grounds are conducive to large catered events as well as travelers looking to talk over a good wine. In particular, its ice wine is developed in the classic tradition, where it is processed after the grapes are frozen on the vine.         Bob Madill, Sheldrake’s owner, comments, “The Finger Lakes area is becoming more sophisticated, and the wineries are working together more to better represent the values of the area to visitors. Having something as a ‘wine trail’ is very unusual compared to other wine growing areas nationally and worldwide.”

Turning left onto County Road 150 off Route 89 is Lucas Vineyard, Cayuga Lake’s oldest winery where colorful bottles, spectacular labels, and the nautical-inspired Tug Boat wines have intrigued travelers, wine writers, and connoisseurs for nearly a quarter of a century. Grape- and nautical-themed gift items are available in its gift shop.        Returning to Route 89 and proceeding south to turn onto East Covert Lake Road, a visitor will find Americana Vineyards and its next-door neighbor Bellwether Hard Cider. Owner Joseph Gober promises visitors “a relaxed wine tasting experience” in their newly restored 1800s timber frame barn, as well as a gift shop featuring products from local artisans. Bellwether produces the trail’s only hard cider for a distinctively different winery experience, and offers an appealing alternative for a casual mealtime accompaniment.

Continuing on Route 89 into Ithaca and turning east onto Route 79 is Six Mile Creek Vineyard, which offers a wide variety of wines ranging from dry, to semi-dry, to semi-sweet, in order to appease the diverse palates of the wine-drinking population. Its Ithaca Red is a fruity yet brawny companion to hearty entrees, while its Ithaca White provides more spicy overtures. Informational tastings are provided on their relaxing deck and picnic areas.

To reach the east side of Cayuga Lake’s wineries requires a return onto Route 79 west and proceeding north onto Route 34 and north onto Route 34B. King Ferry Winery/Treleaven Estate welcomes visitors to “taste the artistry” in their wines as well as enjoy the hand-painted murals in its tasting room and custom-designed glasses and bottles of wine in the gift shop. Its Melange is a pleasant red wine for the white wine drinker, while its Silver Lining Chardonnay is surprisingly dry yet alluring. Turning north onto Route 90 from King Ferry Winery will lead to Long Point Winery. Situated on scenic Cayuga Lake, guests are treated to a tasting of fine wines and a spectacular view from its tasting room. Owner Gary Barletta strives to create wines that range from its full-bodied, aromatic Syrah Reserve to fruity yet complex wines like Sangiovese.

Montezuma Winery on Routes 5 & 20 concludes a picturesque autumn drive north along Route 90. The wine selection encompasses understated reds to a sweet rhubarb dessert wine. Their flavorful Pear Perfection and Blue Moon are unusual yet sturdy companions for cheese (or cheesecake!), while its Plum Passion is a smooth piquant complement to Asian food. A full line of Mead (honey wine) varieties are available as well as wines produced by smaller vineyards in the region.

The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is a vibrant and various combination of style, flavor and atmosphere. Not only can visitors take in the splendor of fall, but can easily discover treasures and memories to be savored for years to come.


by Linda D. Pratt
Linda D. Pratt is a freelance writer and eager researcher on the subject of Finger Lakes wines. She would like to thank Steve and Flavia Huber for their assistance in composing this article. Further information courtesy of www.cayugawinetrail.com.