Cover photo: Cascade Cavern, courtesy Gerry Barker
It’s day four on our Empire State Road Trip, and our mission today – should we decide to accept it – is hit the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. We accept it, gladly.
Our first stop is the Blue Pointe Grill, the main dining room at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, where we’ll get breakfast and Pam will savor a cup of coffee while we study the winery map.
Ringing the entire 38-mile-length of Seneca Lake, there are dozens to choose from, and with time at a premium, we decide on four to visit. One concern is how the wineries are handling the mandated New York COVID protocols. We have read some wineries now require reservations in advance, while others are open to walk-ins. Only one way to find out, so we’re off.
Wine production is big business here, with New York ranking third behind California and Washington, boasting close to 500 wineries statewide. Wikipedia notes the state is “home to America’s oldest continuously operating winery, Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson Valley, which has been making wine for almost 175 years.” The wine industry got a big boost in 2011 with the signing of the Fine Winery Law, which allowed wineries to operate up to five tasting rooms and streamlined shipping policies. The Finger Lakes and Long Island are the main wine-producing regions.
We take Route 414, which winds past lush green hills, skirting Seneca Lake on one side and the Finger Lakes National Forest on the other. This is also where you can get a close-up view of Hector Falls (see Road Trip, Part 3), but beware of other cars behind you when you slow down to admire it.
Soon we are at our first stop, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars and its 119 acres of vineyards. Here walk-ins are welcome, but masks must be worn when you aren’t doing a tasting, which was the rule everywhere we went. We meet Katie Roison, their marketing manager, who talks about the three generations that own the vineyard, most of which is devoted to Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, along with a half-dozen other varietals.
Pam and I are far from wine experts – we just know what we like. For Pam, it’s more bold reds and the bubbly, while I gravitate toward sweet. Between us, we get a nice range of what each winery offers. One of my favorites from this region are the ice wines.
Before we leave, we take time to walk among the vines and admire the views. Most of the wineries offer outdoor tables and cater to large groups, although you’ll definitely want to make a reservation if yours is a party of six or more.
In the next several hours, we visit three more wineries:
- Wagner, one of the region’s oldest, now in its fifth generation of owners. Besides their 30 award-winning wines, they also have a craft brewery, producing a dozen different craft beers, as well as the Ginny Lee Cafe if you want to do lunch.
- Chateau LaFayette Reneau. Housed in a restored, 100-year-old barn, on 110 acres, with scenic views. After our tastings, Pam opted to buy a bottle of their “Roaring Red,” a double Gold Medal-winning wine featuring a lion in a tux on the label.
- Lakewood Vineyards. Set on 80 acres on the west side of the lake, Lakewood features a wide range of wines and a casual, inviting vibe for a tasting. Dogs belonging to the staff roamed inside and out, and gave visitors their own brand of friendly welcome. Here Pam was able to satisfy her taste for bubbly by buying a bottle of their Bubbly Candeo …”When champagne is too much and beer not enough (it) is lightly fruity, on the verge of dry. Edgy. Scintillating. Fun!” That all describes Pam to a tee.
While we would love to continue our journey of wine discovery, it was time to head back to the hotel and round up some lunch. This time we opted for another waterfront eatery, the Village Marina, and grabbed an outdoor table to leisurely enjoy the sun and breeze.
The afternoon was earmarked for a visit to Watkins Glen State Park and hiking the Gorge Trail. But for this part of the trip, as Robert Frost famously penned, “two roads diverged into a yellow wood.” Pam’s road meant she was on her own (she neglected to pack her hiking shoes), while my road led to the park.
The State Park is a short drive away, and after paying the $10 entrance fee, my starting point was the South Entrance. Like the Finger Lakes themselves, the park was shaped by glaciers over the last million years. Water flowing from Glen Creek powers 19 waterfalls that continue to eat away the rocks that form the gorge, creating spectacular photo opportunities.
The Gorge Trail is 1.5 miles – about right for this out-of-shape weekend warrior – and hiking is made much easier thanks to the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who in the 1930s built hundreds of steps and stairs into the rocks along the way. With water bottle and map in hand, I was off.
There’s nothing quite like being one with Nature, and the hike through the gorge in the bright afternoon sun didn’t disappoint. One of the highlights of the trail is the Cavern Cascade, where you literally walk behind a waterfall. Another favorite is Rainbow Falls, so named because light on it releases a symphony of colors. Toward the end you’ll find Frowning Cliff, where lack of light means few plants can grow.
For Nature lovers, the park is definitely a must-see.
And now, sadly, our time at Watkins Glen is coming to a close. We have dinner and drinks at the Blue Pointe Grill, then take in the sunset with a stroll on the Seneca Lake pier. The next morning, it’s pack the car and continue to the last leg of our Empire State Road Trip.
NEXT: Exploring the 1000 Islands and the area around Clayton, NY.
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