Like the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, also in New York’s glacial Finger Lakes region, Seneca Lake Wine Trail is a world-renowned location, packed with more than thirty wineries, plus a distillery, a meadery, and breweries. With a climate perfect for vineyard varieties like Riesling and Pinot Noir, it’s no wonder the Seneca Lake Grape Wine Company was established as far back as 1866.
While wine making in the region was temporarily derailed due to Prohibition, in 1976, wine production was encouraged by the state’s Farm Winery Act, and by the late seventies, winemakers were in business once again, winning awards, and drawing visitors with its cool- climate-grown varietals.
There are many tasting choices in this bucolic region, including Ravines Wine Cellars, known for its Reisling, with its dry crisp, floral notes. Ravines specialize in Pinot Noir as well as Riesling and sparkling wines. The winery’s 2013 Gewurztraminer features delightful blends of rose petal, citrus, and sweet, exotic lychee fruit. Equally unique is the 2014 Keuka Village White, which blends Cayuga and Vignoles with tastes of honeydew melon and hints of green apple and pair.
At the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Rieslings are also the order of the day: these are richly fruity, offerings, such as the Late Harvest, made in the German Spatlese style. Wiemer was purchased by vintner Fred Merwarth in 2007, who is a firm believer in the title of this Reisling, choosing to harvest late despite the cool Finger Lakes climate, for the ultimate in sweetness. Merwarth is maintaining a long-standing tradition: Wiemer emphasized Reisling production in the 1970s and ’80s; opting then for the richest and sweetest Reisling creation. The rich, spicy Cabernet Franc Reserve is another solid option.
For something completely different, a visit to Earle Estates is in order. Here, one can sample over twenty different varieties of honey wine or mead. Fruit and grape wines, as well as Wort Hog Hard Cider, are also available for tasting. Raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and apple cider are all among the cider selections, surprisingly light and crisp. There’s a sparkling Mead called Twinkle, available as well. It’s not all about the mead, however. The light, dry Seyval Blanc is a white table wine whose clean; fresh taste is summery and bright. Part of the pleasure of tasting here is the ability to glimpse working beehives, taste fresh honey, and learn about the bees themselves. The small joke could be made: rather a perfect spot to experience a delightful wine “buzz,” as long as a designated driver is employed.
At Castel Grisch Winery, an expansive restaurant offers dining options as well as a tasting room where an oaky Chardonnay and Riesling blend affords yet a different Reisling option. The Traminette is another hybrid worth exploring, fermented in stainless steel, a hybrid born from a Gewurtztraminer originated at the University of Illinois in the 1960s. The Seneca Dream Red comes from the Catawba grape, an early-grown vine in the region, with a uniquely vibrant, spiced and sweet flavor.
A copious award winner for their Pinot Gris and Riesling, Zugibe Vineyards is a relatively new winery in the region, with initial plantings made in 2005. One must taste: the winery offers a Gruner Veltliner white that is refreshing and clean, with notes of apricot and plum. The 2010 Merlot is deeply nuanced, rich, with strong notes of plum and currant.
With a wide range of tasting options like these, as well as stunning scenery, the Seneca Wine Trail is one not to miss on the east coast.