Togas, Tastings, and Treats at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival

The Finger Lakes Wine Festival is truly New York wine country’s premier event. In mid-July, over 80 of New York state’s finest wineries will converge at the Watkins Glen International Raceway to offer wine tasting and more.

It begins on Friday night, July 18, with the Launch of the Lakes toga party. Other than a few defiant exceptions, it is not your typical “Animal House” toga party. Over 100 toga wearers compete for the coveted titles of King and Queen while they sample wine. Most togas are spectacular, and the competition is fierce. The newly anointed King and Queen officially open the festival with a huge fireworks display.

Tip: Camping is available on the festival grounds.

Tastings continue Saturday and Sunday, July 19 and 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you don’t consider yourself a wine expert, members of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation will share their expertise at seminars throughout the weekend. A variety of classes will be available for people at all levels of knowledge.

Tip: Saturday is typically the busiest day. Sunday morning is the quietest.

As you tour the fest and taste the wine, you’ll probably want to take home a bottle or two. Instead of carrying your purchases around the whole weekend, use the festival’s convenient wine pick-up service. When you arrive, get wine claim checks at the Welcome Tent. When you’re ready to leave, bring your car around and hand in your checks. A staff member will retrieve your wine purchases for you.

Tip: Bring some address labels to put on your wine claim checks so you won’t have to repeatedly write down your information.

Wine tasting is not the only activity during the weekend. Free cooking demonstrations, hosted by the Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty, will feature top regional chefs eager to share their secrets. Recipes will focus on regional fare paired with festival wines. Guests are invited to sample the finished products. In addition, a variety of hands-on culinary classes will be held, appropriate for both novice and experienced cooks.

Tip: Pre-registration is encouraged.

When you’re ready to take a break from the wine, the festival offers a variety of other opportunities. You’re at a famous, world-class speedway! Take a pace-car ride around the long track for just $10 per person.

Tip: This is a “Must Do.”

Beer at a wine fest? Yes: Three Finger Lakes breweries are festival participants. In fact, Wagner Vineyards makes both wine and beer.

Cheese at a wine fest? Of course! The festival showcases a variety of agricultural products and industries of the region. In fact, Yancy’s Fancy: New York’s Artisan Cheese, is sponsoring the Launch of the Lakes toga party.

Shop the 100 vendors surrounding the tasting area, and pick up wine accessories, culinary items, and locally created artwork and jewelry.

Tip: Head to The Park for a wonderful lunch and live music.

Don’t forget to bring a designated driver! The DD gets a discounted ticket for festival access without tasting privileges. Designated Drivers will be treated to complimentary premium grape juice products at the Barrington and Fulkerson booths, and free sodas and water at the Pepsi display area.

Blood alcohol content (BAC) testing will be available at the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department booth. The department also operates a courtesy sobriety checkpoint at the track’s exit gate.

Tip: Be safe, plan ahead and bring a DD.

The Wine Festival offers shuttle service to and from area hotels and plenty of free parking. For more information, visit call 866-461-7223.

by Kristian S. Reynolds
Kristian S. Reynolds produces images for industry, travel and tourism throughout the Northeast. His clients include I Love New York and Greek Peak Mountain Resort. His two coffee table books, Finger Lakes Panoramas and Wine Tour of the Finger Lakes (written by Grady Wells) continue to be local favorites.To learn more, visit

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