A fine wine ages well, and a fine wine trail ages – even better. The first wine trail in the U.S., the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is made up of seventeen wineries, many family-owned, offering intimate tasting experiences and unique blends for visitors. Located in the lush Finger Lakes region of New York, the trail was established in 1983, and since then the wineries there have repeatedly won national and international awards such as Winery of the Year, and the Governor’s Cup.
If that isn’t reason enough to visit, the region holds four wine and food pairing events annually, to celebrate Mardi Gras, cheese, fresh herbs, and the winter holidays. These lively events draw crowds of wine lovers and gourmands to the beautiful lake and bucolic farmland.
Of course, the area was not always home to a renowned wine trail. Mary Plane, owner of Plane’s Cayuga Vineyards, now the Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery, began a movement to join neighboring vineyards to draw oenophiles to the region – and the wine trail was born. Names such as Knapp, Six Mile Creek, Sheldrake Point, and Buttonwood are at home on the trail, which is also a renowned American Viticulture Arena.
What makes the trail special aside from its history is the cold but continuous air flow in the autumn, which extends the growing season for the region’s vineyards. And that growing season yields some truly exceptional wines. At Buttonwood, where sustainable growing practices are a part of the winery’s philosophy, wines range from small releases like the Grenache Blanc, redolent of crisp apples, guava, tangelo oranges and cantaloupe; to the larger batch distributed wines like the rich Cabernet Franc, with its notes of plum, raspberry, and violets.
At Sheldrake Point Winery, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Dry Rosé, and Chardonnay are among the offerings, as well as sweet dessert wines. Must-tastes include the Wild Ferment Riesling Ice Wine, crisp and infused with notes of marmalade and stone fruit. Red wine lovers will enjoy the 2012 Meritage, aromatic and slightly spicy, with notes of chocolate, berries, and plum.
Wine tasting at Knapp, one of the larger wineries on the Cayuga Lake Trail, provides a variety of tastes from sweet reds to citrus infused whites. Coridals and aperitifs are also produced here, with one highlight the sweet, tangy lemon Limoncello. Knapp also offers smooth Grappa, smooth, with its strong grape taste; this European beverage is lovingly crafted here.
At Lakeshore, owners Annie and John Bachman invite guests to taste in a comfortable semi- circle, a tradition begun by the original owners, Bill and Doris Brown. The cozy atmosphere is a welcoming spot to taste a Cabernet Franc or one of the winery’s unique whites, such as the 2008 Chardonnay, dry and oaky; a Semi-Dry Riesling with a strong fruity finish, or the French Kiss, a sweet Chardonnay.
For something unique to the region, Montezuma Winery proudly offers tempting fruit, grape and honey wines, such as Cranberry Bog, Blue Moon blueberry wine, and Golden Delicious apple wine. “We take something traditional and give it a fun twist,” winery co-owner Bill Martin says.
A similar philosophy can be found throughout the Cayuga Wine Trail. Steeped in tradition, wineries on the trail are branching out to offer distilled spirits- as Montezuma does; cordials and aperitifs such as those offered at Knapp; or hard cider at Bellweather – in short, well-aged tradition with that special Cayuga twist.