One might not expect a fertile wine-producing region to be located so far north in the US, but the unique ecoregion known as Finger Lakes is home to over 100 wineries. These eleven thin lakes that span from the southern shore of Lake Ontario like crow’s feet are deep, narrow expanses of water, much like the lochs or fjords of northern Europe. Their steep banks enjoy enough moisture and protection from the elements to allow vineyards to thrive there. Lately, tours to the Finger Lakes have been growing in popularity, not least because they allow somebody else to take care of the driving so that you can focus on the most important thing: wine tasting.
The Finger Lakes are surrounded by well known towns and cities in New York state like Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. Therefore, tours from these spots are the most popular, although some may also start from further afield. Many of the wineries can be found around Keuka, Seneca, Hemlock and Canandaigua lakes, although there are many more around most of the other lakes too. With a huge selection of wineries, tour packages and itineraries to choose from, making the right choice for you can involve time consuming research. That’s why we’ve curated them into this simple list of the best five, taking factors like, duration, itinerary, quality of the wineries and feedback from previous guests all into account.
FROM: $130/per person
As one of the more popular lakes for visitors, Canandaigua Lake has its own well-established wine trail, with a number of little wineries and even craft breweries scattered around its shores. The main tour lasts around five hours during the afternoon and includes three local wineries, one along the edge of the lake and two slightly further south in the small town of Naples. See the grape to glass journey and taste the end result in the form of pinot grigio and Riesling. There’s also an option to take a longer tour that adds an additional winery and lunch at the popular steak house Nolan’s in Canandaigua. This tour, like many on this list, starts in the slightly awkward location of Farmington, although hotel pickup is available here if you’re already staying in Canandaigua town.
From $155/ per person
Perhaps the most popular of the Finger Lakes is Seneca, a long ribbon of water where gently rolling hills meet the lake in a patchwork of greens. There are far more wineries in this region than can be effectively visited in one day, but this tour does an excellent job of packing plenty into its seven-and-a-half-hour itinerary. The first stop is usually at Ventosa Vineyards, a 23-acre property from which good views are afforded from the wine tasting area. Other top wineries visited on this trip are Belhurst Castle, Fox Run and White Springs and entry to each is included in the tour price.
From $155/ per person
The smaller, wishbone-shaped Keuka Lake is located to the southwest of Seneca Lake and enjoys a similar density and pedigree of winery as its larger neighbour. Enjoy stops at a minimum of three wineries, like Heron Hill, with its excellent crow’s nest tasting space and Bully Hill Vineyards, where lunch is also provided on the full day tours. Given the region’s more northern location, Finger Lakes wines are not unlike those grown in Germany, thus Riesling is one of the more successful grapes here. You can also expect a good range of sparkling wines around Finger Lakes. As with the above two tour options, there are half-day and full day options available, with the longer, pricier choice offering additional winery stops and lunch.
From $168/ per person
Wine isn’t the only alcoholic beverage made in the Finger Lakes region; beer has also had a resurgence in recent years. As such, the Seneca and Keuka wine regions also share plenty of arable field space with hops growers. Like the grapes, the hops don’t have to travel far, with field to bottle processing taking place at a number of local craft breweries. Twisted Rail, Bottomless, and GAEL brewing companies are all stops on this seven-hour itinerary, as well as the chance to see specialist small-batch, and all-in-one production at the Climbing Bines farm brewery. This tour comes from the same company that organises many of the best Finger Lakes wine tours. Please note that this tour runs every day except Tuesday.
From $360/ per group
If you’d prefer to go your own way, perhaps mixing hops with grapes along the way, then this alternative option is the best way to get a bespoke, private Finger Lakes tour. Plan ahead and design an itinerary of your choosing to fill the seven hours or, if you’re happy to just wing it, your guide is able to advise about the best places to find certain local wines, like Riesling, pinot grigio and even pinot noir. This tour price covers transport for up to six people. Pick up can be made from Syracuse or Elmira airports, or from Ithaca, Geneva, Horseheads or any other regional city. Tastings may cost extra. Please note that this tour runs every day except Monday.