Updated: Oct 11, 2018
The Hamptons and North Fork are cool and everything, but have you ever been to the Finger Lakes?
So I may be biased as I grew up about 50 miles west of Geneva, NY, but seriously my last trip back "home" was the best yet. I'm going to share with you everything you need to know about planning a trip upstate...the REAL upstate. Please note this post will only include Geneva, NY (Seneca Lake). There are virtually more than 100 wineries across the 11 Finger Lakes, and I think Seneca Lake is the best place to start for now.
Where to Stay:
Seneca Lake is more or less the epicenter for Rochester/Syracuse weddings (mine included). The good news about that is there are several familiar and a few unfamiliar hotels within walking distance to the center of town. The below are just a few that will get you to the vineyards quickly!
1. Geneva On The Lake (oh you fancy, huh)?
I've stayed both in hotels and have also booked a lake house through Airbnb. The pro about staying in a hotel is that many of these hotels have free shuttles, and all the staff are familiar with the best restaurants and vineyards in town. The pro about staying in an Airbnb is...welll...
This photo was taken at our rental in Sept. 2016, and I think it really speaks for itself! Most of the hosts have lived in town their entire lives and will be able to answer any questions you may have. I have found my Airbnb experience to be over-the-top amazing, and although your lake house may not come with a shuttle service, there are a few F.L.X .car services that will take you to where you need to go.
Where to Eat:
The food scene in Geneva has absolutely blown up in just a few short years including one restaurant that has recently won the award of USA Today's "Best New Restaurant" in the country. The below are, in my opinion, the top noteworthy places to eat.
If you're planning a trip to Geneva, make sure to book your seat at F.L.X. Table when reservations open online (a month in advance). Master Sommelier Christopher Bates (yes, MASTER) and Isabel Bogadtke are Geneva innovators opening a restaurant with just 12 seats and nothing separating the table from the kitchen. There are two dinner seating's and each night a different pre-fixe menu is served based on the night and season. Besides the amazing food and intimate setting, perhaps my favorite part of the experience was the wine pairing! There are different levels of pairings (if you choose to go the pairing route), which makes it great for any budget. We chose the "Big Pimpin'" level which included wines like a magnum 1986 Robert Mondavi Oakville and a 1997 Nikolaihof Riesling. I don't know...how does six courses of euphoria sound to you?
You guessed it! Also owned by Master Sommelier, Christopher Bates and Isabel Bogadtke is home to probably the best burger I've ever had. Picture this, you've visited 4 wineries down the west coast of Seneca lake and you're STARVING. You could probably do one more winery before your senses start numbing, but right in between Hermann J. Wiemer and Glenora Wine Cellars is a beaming light from heaven. This, ladies & gentleman, is the F.L.X. Wienery. Besides unique burgers like the Peanut Burger which contains peanut butter, bacon, fried onions, and American cheese, is a whole list of "Wiener-Art." They have everything from "The Kraut" which is a little more traditional to the "Whole Dog" which includes fried onions, bacon, cheese curd, corn relish, fried egg, chipotle mayo and herbs. Although the beer & wine list are to die for, there is nothing pretentious about this place. Stumble in as you are and leave your diet at the door.
3. Kindred Fare
If you need a break from the wine and just want a beautifully crafted cocktail with some serious meat, Kindred Fare is the place to go. Don't get me wrong they still have an amazing wine list, but their cocktail selection changes with the season which makes it exciting and new every time. For a place that butchers their own meat, the "Butcher" section of the menu is obviously the route to go. They feature anything from Grilled Boneless Lamb Loin with truffle cauliflower puree, ricotta gnocchi, snow peas and broken rosemary balsamic to a Pan Roasted Duck Breast with sweet potato, cabbage & carrot hash, plum BBQ sauce and radish salad. I celebrated my 1 year wedding anniversary here, and the staff definitely made it unforgettable.
Hasley's is another cozy spot tucked away in downtown Geneva. Craving a wood-fired pizza or maybe lasagna & meatballs? Look no further. The exposed brick and trey tile ceiling makes you feel like your back in Brooklyn Heights. The menu offers anything from the traditional Margherita pie to a Garlic Crab which includes garlic butter sauce, mozzarella, asiago, jumbo lump crap and scallions. Another great feature to Hasley's is that for an extra $3, they can make any pie gluten-free.
Where to Drink:
Literally meaning "the climate within the canopy of the vine," Microclimate is my favorite wine bar in Geneva, NY. Or maybe just NY in general. The setting is intimate, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, the wine selection is diverse, and the cheese/meat boards are plentiful! If you're unsure of what kind of wine to order, the staff will work with your palate to find you the perfect glass. My love for Cabernet Franc essentially birthed itself here as Stephanie (hey, girl) introduced me to some of the best French and F.L.X. Cab Francs on the market. Microclimate is the perfect pre-dinner destination!
The Geneva equivalent of NYC's Attaboy or The Garret is The Linden Social Club. Located a few doors down from Microclimate, TLSC is the perfect spot post-dinner reservation. A changing menu, dandy bartenders, and great prices ($7 for a hand-crafted cocktail) are just a few of the high points to consider. Not sure which cocktail to order? Just tell your mixologist the style of drink you prefer. The last time I was there all I had to say was, "something smokey & herbaceous" and within a few minutes I had a masterpiece in my hand.
If you ever just feel like throwing on some flip flops and having a good beer or cider, Lake Drum Brewing is the place to be. The two owners, Victor & Jenna, started Lake Drum Brewing by first experimenting with fermentation and aging beer in wine barrels...and the rest was really history. You can find anything from a Lavender Tea Cider to a Buckwheat Stout or IPA. It's also important to mention that 20% of each beer produced is grown in New York State. A popular place among the local community, you are also likely to hear some killer live music!
Where to Taste:
As mentioned previously, there are over 100 wineries across all 11 Finger Lakes. In this post I am just going to focus on where taste on Seneca Lake. I highly recommend hiring a car service (I prefer S&S Limousine) because it's SAFE, and your driver will keep you and your group on schedule. YES...have an itinerary already mapped out prior to heading to the vineyards. In no particular order:
Fox Run Vineyard
Anthony Road Wine Company
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
Glenora Wine Cellars
Lakewood Vineyards Inc.
Damiani Wine Cellars
Hector Wine Company
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars
Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery
Three Brothers Wineries and Estates
Belhurst Castle and Winery
You obviously need a few days to hit them all, but trust me it will be worth it. The Finger Lakes have always been known in New York for good Riesling, but now they're getting worldwide recognition for GREAT Riesling (Hermann J. Wiemer). The dry red scene is coming up in a big way as well (Cab Franc) and I think you'll really notice that in places like Ventosa, Fox Run, Lakewood, and Shaw.
Beyond the food, the sights, and the wine is the #1 reason why I love making that 4 1/2 hour drive every year and that is...the PEOPLE! Seneca Lake is a place to just be yourself free of judgement and pretentiousness. Wear what you want, drink what you want, share a Meritage with some strangers, and connect with what made you fall in love with wine in the first place. When you're staring out to the lake hearing nothing but the rustling vines with a Cab Franc in hand, I guarantee you'll find your FLX wine moment.
*Info c/o the establishment's website & personal experience*