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Exploring the Finger Lakes Wine Region

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Finger Lakes Wine CenterAbout ten years ago, just before I moved to Ithaca, the friends who encouraged my relocation here invited me on a wine tour of Cayuga Lake. Not then fancying myself a wine drinker, I believed it was more hip to not be cultured in that way. I went along mostly out of curiosity. This was long before Sideways, well before the foodie or locavore movements, but just shortly before I understood the implied gravitas of being an oenophile.

I’ll confess what I noted then, more than the wines, were the stunning lake views, rolling vineyards spied from the back decks of repurposed barns, and the incredibly welcome feeling of chatting with friends who would soon become neighbors. What I noticed has been remarked on by others—how easy and comfortable I felt at a winery, discussing wines, with friends, with strangers and sometimes even with the vintner. Fortunately, both the Finger Lakes Wine region and I have had time to mature. The region has even done it in a way that’s getting it noticed by Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits magazines while maintaining the warm welcome that has tourists and wine drinkers, casual and cultured, paying a bit more attention to Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.

What better place to start your tour than the recently opened Finger Lakes Wine Center which acts as a gateway to the over 100 wineries lining the shores of the nearby lakes. Already having a steady stream of visitors from across the country, and the world, Ithaca is perfectly positioned, both geographically and logistically, to become the heart of the Finger Lakes wine world. But the loftier goal of the center, to win our minds as well, is where the fun really gets started. From Wednesday to Sunday (noon to 7pm) educators and vintners will teach visitors about the Finger Lakes wine region, from soil and climate to regional grapes and growing conditions. They’ll also be offering monthly classes in both tasting and serving with something for everyone from “what’s an oenophile?” to “would you like to see my cellar?”

I’ll be the first to tell you that my initial tour would’ve been quite different if I’d been armed with even a little of this information. If I’d known ten years ago that I loved tannic wines that pucker my mouth, or that I prefer oak aged chardonnays, I’d have saved a lot of time and a lot of tastes (and perhaps not left the one bottle of wine I purchased behind).

Just about anyone can grab a map, like we did, (you’ll even find some at the wine center) and follow the lake along, but you’ll quickly notice that a stop at every single winery along the way means you’ll never find the time to do them all. The more outgoing among you might grab a local and ask which wineries are a must. Both laudable strategies, but the most important lesson I’ve learned from traveling these wine trails is that taste is a very personal thing. No matter how many descriptions I read about a wine’s color or clarity, nose or bouquet, mouth or finish, description means little without an actual taste (and even then, quite often, the description still means nothing to me). The truth of it is, when it comes to wine tastes you’ll get answers all over the map, but the gems locals provide you with are tidbits like: keep an eye out for the limerick telling vintner. He’s been, I’m told, on the trails for years, but pops up at different wineries, and having him pour for you is a treat. We found him at Goosewatch last season. The best way to find out what you like is to arm yourself with a little information, get some tastings under your belt and hit the trail.

It’s also the perfect excuse to check out the Finger Lakes Wine Center on Thursday evening for one of their wine tastings and map out your strategy for a tour of wineries over the weekend.

Related Links:
Finger Lakes Wine Center –
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail-
Seneca Lake Wine Trail-
Keuka Lake Wine Trail-

–Jennifer B. Brown is a Contributor to The Free George.

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