Last month, as the leaves were just starting to change colors in DC, we hit the road with our friends Jenna and Phil for a weekend in the Finger Lakes in New York. We stayed in the town of Hammondsport on beautiful Keuka Lake in a charming house right on the water with the hopes of a relaxing weekend of wine tasting and catching up with good friends. Although it turned out to be a frigidly cold weekend, the views from every part of the house allowed us to peep the gorgeous scenery nonstop.
Our main purpose for the visit was wine tasting, of course, but we also worked in some downtime. The house was perfect for that, with ample room and privacy for two couples. We had a blast taking advantage of the provided board games and making full use of the nicely equipped kitchen.
Our Keuka Lake Wine Tasting Itinerary
Our lodging also served as a wonderful launchpad for exploring the wineries surrounding Keuka Lake. Tom and I were so excited to check out a new wine region, and grateful to have our friends as knowledgeable tour guides. Jenna lived in the area when she was younger, and she and Phil have been back many times over the years.
Our immediate impression of this particular wine country was that it is utterly breathtaking. But as we continued our tour, we found even more to love about it. For one, everything is located relatively close together making self-navigation pretty easy. We also enjoyed the prices of the tastings, which were even cheaper than you’d find in Virginia and much more so than those in Napa and Sonoma. While we’d expected to taste mostly sweet wine, that wasn’t the case at all. The dry whites and red wines were a delightful surprise.
Every winery mentioned below is more than worthy of a visit, each offering a unique atmosphere and quality wine. This is a great two-day itinerary for exploring the wineries of Keuka Lake.
Keuka Lake Vineyards
We started our wine tasting adventure on the West side of Keuka Lake. Our first stop was to Keuka Lake Vineyards, which Jenna highly recommended from a previous visit. We were off to a great start with this gem. The service was among the best we had all weekend and the wines set the tone for a delicious weekend. The winery is small and quaint, but the wine packs a big punch. We actually liked almost everything we tasted, but especially the dry Rieslings and the Leon Millot.
Dr. Frank’s is one of the most popular wineries on Keuka Lake, and for good reason. Dr. Konstantin Frank is credited for elevating the wine that was being produced in the Finger Lakes by coming up with a way for delicate European vines to be planted and grown in the region. His legacy lives on through three generations of Franks who have continued to fine tune the winemaking process.
The 2016 Dry Riesling is one of the most addicting white wines I’ve ever tasted. I’m sad to say that both bottles we took home with us are already gone. We also really enjoyed the sparkling wines at Dr. Frank’s, especially the Célèbre, made from 100% Riesling using the champagne method.
While Dr. Frank’s is definitely one of the most commercialized wineries on Keuka Lake, it’s a must stop for any first time visitor.
For our second day of wine tasting, we drove over the East Side of the lake. Our tasting associate at Keuka Lake Vineyards had highly recommended Weis Vineyards, a new winery located in an adorable old one-room schoolhouse. I loved everything about the property and our experience at Weis. Our tasting associate was as sweet as pie and the wine was wonderful. So good in fact, that most of their reds were sold out. We really enjoyed the whites that we sampled, almost all of which were dry. One of the favorites among our group was the Perle Perle, an off-dry sparkling white wine with a tropical fruit backbone.
Domaine Leseurre is located just a stone’s throw from Weis Vineyards, so it was a no-brainer to head there next. The owners/winemakers, Céline and Sébastien Leseurre, are both originally from France. Their wines combine the style of French winemaking with the terroir of the Finger Lakes to create something completely unique.
It was at this point in the trip that we realized how wrong we had been about wine in the Finger Lakes. We expected cheap, sweet wine to be the predominant offering. Each winery we visited debunked that misconception, and Domaine Leseurre cemented our impression that this wine can hold its own against both European and U.S. West Coast wine, no contest. While everything we tasted was lovely, I especially gravitated towards the Chardonnays and Cabernet Francs. We ended up taking a bottle of the 2014 Cabernet Franc Barrel Select to have with our steak dinner at the house later that evening.
Ravines Wine Cellar
I wasn’t sure it could get any better than Domaine Leseurre, but our next stop was just as successful. Ravines Wine Cellar is located on a beautiful, expansive property with gorgeous views of Keuka Lake. This was by far the most crowded winery we visited, but we didn’t have to wait too long to start a tasting. The white wines at Ravines are good, but the reds are outstanding – probably the best we had the entire trip. I wanted one of each, but settled for the 2014 Maximilien, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Ravines also offers food and a large selection of gifts.
Keuka Brewing Co.
It’s not all about wine on Keuka Lake. There are also a handful of breweries and distilleries worth visiting. Keuka Brewing Company was Keuka Lake’s first micro-brewery. This family run operation is making some seriously cool beers in a beautiful location. Although I rarely drink beer anymore, I enjoyed several of the brews. The Strawberry Gose was just my style and the Pumpkin Cream Ale converted me from my pumpkin-hater ways. This is a great stop to change things up during a trip to Keuka Lake.
Where to Eat on Keuka Lake
We cooked two of our meals in the lake house, but of course managed to taste some of the local offerings in Hammondsport. For lunch, Timber Stone Grill is a great option. They have tasty flatbreads and salads, and one of the best French onion soups I’ve ever had.
Bully Hill Vineyards has a lovely restaurant located on the property that’s great for lunch as well. If you have time, head to the winery for a tasting after you eat. We liked their Merlot and Cab Franc for affordable every day wines.
For dinner, Union Block Italian Bistro is a must. They have a great wine list offering some great local wine choices along with a selection of Italian varietals. For dinner with a view, try The Lakeside.
We had such a great time visiting Keuka Lake. As we packed up to leave on Sunday we all wished for just one more day to explore. I truly hope to return one day, perhaps in warmer weather, to explore more of the Finger Lakes region.
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