It’s noon on a Saturday and I am celebrating happy hour somewhere as I languidly sip on a Pinot Noir and take in the view around me. My surroundings are reminiscent of that old Windows screen saver; you know the one with the rolling green hills, fluffy clouds and idyllic sky. It’s funny how coming from New York City I seem to find this perfect vista unnatural, having grown too accustomed to being surrounded by concrete and garbage. Yet here I am, staring off at the silhouette of mountains hovering above a blue-grey lake and vineyards swaying in the breeze.

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I am in the Finger Lakes Wine region – a mere 5 hour drive from Manhattan yet by all means a different country all together. Out here crowded avenues are swapped for open spaces and the rumble of subways and honking of cabs is replaced by either silence or the sounds of waterfalls. What a dream. I am on the Seneca Wine Trail, one of the largest cohesive wine trails in North America and home to over 30 award-winning wineries. If the next 30 vineyards offer vino that is anything like the Pinot Noir I’m drinking, then I’m in for a real (drunken) treat.

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The Pinot Noir is complex in flavor with hints of plum and spicy oak on the finish; you can practically taste the love that went into making this bottle. It’s Seneca Lake (the largest of the Finger Lakes) that holds the secret to this great wine as it helps keep the grapes delicious. During my wine tasting I’m told how the lake will keep its temperatures even as the seasons change; holding onto the cold in the summer and the heat in the winter, which helps the grapes last. The result? Winery after winery that churns out fantastic bottles of everything from Riesling to Malbec (which is a feat on its own considering Malbec grapes are quite finicky). For anyone looking to visit the Finger Lakes, consider this your guide to a few of the best vineyards.

 

Heron Hill Winery

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Heron Hill Winery has been named one of the best tasting rooms in the world by Travel+Leisure; it is the spot I am sipping my Pinot Noir and starting to wax poetic about nature and wine. With their unbeatable tasting room and Blue Heron Cafe serving farm-to-table dishes, Heron Hill is perfect. The tasting room and cafe sits atop a hill overlooking the lake and the rows of grapes below so you can sip your wine, eat dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and take in the scenery.


 

Glenora Wine Cellars

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I felt a bit like a pesky raccoon wandering the vineyards of Glenora as I couldn’t stop eating their fresh green and concord grapes. The grapes at Glenora are succulent as is their wine, which of course pairs perfectly with their menu at Veraisons RestaurantFarm-to-table dining is perhaps one of my favorite culinary trends to surface as it promotes healthy eating and the knowledge of where your food is coming from. There is something truly wonderful about enjoying a meal and knowing that the ingredients on the plate have come from ground to farmer to chef without the interference of chemicals, pesticides or factories. Veraisons Restaurant serves farm-to-table American fare whipped up by Executive Chef, Orlando Rodriguez. The restaurant overlooks the Glenora vineyard and features country-chic decor with a stone fireplace, balcony seating (which I highly recommend if weather permits) and a view of the lake.


 

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars

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One of the Finger Lakes’ best known wineries is that of Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera who is credited with igniting the “Vinifera Revolution.” Dr. Frank essentially cracked the code on growing the delicate European vinifera grape varieties in cold climates, such as that of the Finger Lakes, allowing for the making of fine European wines state side. The result? As their website puts it, “the winery quickly earned a reputation for spectacular Rieslings and its original planting of vines formed the backbone of New York’s world-class wines and champagnes.”


 

Ravines Wine Cellars

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Ravines Wine Cellars was named one of the world’s top 100 wineries by Wine Spectator Magazine and is found tucked away in the town of Hammondsport. The owner/winemaker behind the vineyard grew up in Provence, France so the winery shows a strong French influence and has Provencal touches.


 

An alternative to wine…

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True, the Finger Lakes is a wine region but for those who aren’t keen on spending days sampling the local wines I found there are some stunning alternatives to the vineyards. Watkins Glen State Park is one such alternative with over 19 waterfalls. Walk the Gorge Trail, which will reveal dramatic landscapes and beautiful waterfalls–including Rainbow Falls–as it follows Glen Creek and the path it has cut through the gorge. There are many different trails you can take–the Indian trail, South Rim Trail, etc.–but the Gorge trail is the one that will take your breath away with its beautiful views.

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As a New Yorker, I’m guilty of not looking beyond the city when it comes to New York State (as are most people). We can all have NYC toss glitter in our eyes and eclipse the rest of the state but it would be a mistake to overlook the Finger Lakes Wine region, which offers a dramatically different pace of life from that which is found in the concrete jungle.

 

*For more information about traveling to Finger Lakes Wine Country visit the official tourism website