Saturday, June 16, 2007

Finger Lakes Travelogue

At the beginning of June my husband and I vacationed in the Finger Lakes. I put together a travelogue of our journey.

June 2-3

Our first stop was the River View Inn in Sunbury, PA ( The Inn is the only thing really going on in the town except for the soft serve ice cream stand about a block away. The innkeepers renovated and furnished the house themselves lending a plush sumptuousness to the interior. Bring your bathing suit. There is a hot tub. The Overlook Room looks out on the Susquehanna.

The innkeeper recommended Front Street Station for dinner just a few miles away in Northumberland. The converted train station idea is a great concept. No wine list to speak of, but a fantastic draft beer called Spring Heat (I was not able to find out who produces it). Smooth, wheat beer served with an orange slice and had a slight citrus/orange flavor. Food was not exceptional and our waitress needed to relearn the art of serving. Recommend going into Lewisburg (1/2 hour away). Elizabeth’s on Market St. might be the best thing in the area. At least the menu looked yummy. And fair warning PA only sells wine in a state-controlled liquor store and we never found one of those.

After one night in PA, it was on to NY.

The first winery we came to was Lakewood Vineyards Friendly. Free Tasting. Chad was able to ascertain what type of wines we liked and poured a good selection. Dry Riesling and Port (made from Baco Noir grapes) were the best.

Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars served an upscale salad and sandwich menu as well as their wines. It rained while we lunched so you could just make out the vineyards and could barely see the lake. On a clear day the view would be spectacular. The Sparkling Brut had large bubbles and was more minerally than yeasty (not a favorite). The Syrah was very smooth, but very different from the Syrahs we usually purchase. Glenora was the first winery on Seneca Lake established in 1977. This place had three tasting tiers $2 for 6 of the regular wines. $4 for 6 of the premium wines. $7 for the tour of the cellars and tasting of whatever you want. They were a bit pushy and pretentious so we opted for the $2 taste. The woman behind the counter had no clue about the wines she was pouring or why the Yellow Cab was called Yellow Cab. The most decent of the bunch was the Cabernet Franc which reminded us of VA Cabernet Franc – very bell pepperish.

We only did two wineries this day. Both were producing pinot noir. Neither of these got it anywhere close to right.

We stayed at the Fox Inn in Penn Yan. A 19th century abode complete with tall columns. The Lucy Hall Fox room was spacious with private bath with stand up shower stall.

We had dinner at The Antique Inn and Restaurant near Penn Yan. Homey feel. Non-smoking. Friendly waitress. Only bottle of red was the Hunt Country Classic Red. A smooth, fruity table red with a little residual sugar. Made with Baco Noir, Chancellor, and DeChaunac grapes. Produced by Hunt County Winery just up the road. It reminded us of Black Dog by Chateau Morrisette. The fried trout was lightly breaded and very nice. The roast pork was sliced in enormous portions. Unfortunately, mashed potatoes were instant and the carrots were cooked to almost mush-like consistency (this is why I never liked to eat carrots growing up).

Coming back we stopped at Seneca Farms Homemade Ice Cream. Homemade ice cream and frozen custard. They also have a restaurant boasting Fried Chicken. “If Dairy is Queen, we must be King.”

There were Amish and Mennonite communities around Penn Yan. We espied several horse and buggies trotting along Main Street. One buggy had hung fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror.

June 4

The Fox Inn breakfast was HUGE. I had crème brule French toast with sausage patties. My husband had the mother of all cinnamon buns. It was two inches tall and as big as the plate. We started with plain yogurt with fresh strawberries and blueberries. Subsequent breakfasts were equally as large. The Fox Inn asked guests to choose from several selections the night before. I liked this concept. I had buckwheat and strawberry pancakes one morning as well as eggs benedict with buckwheat grits on another day and then fried eggs and ham with hash browns on the last day. The pancakes were the best.

On to the wineries. We followed the Keuka Wine trail today beginning with the west side of the lake. The drive closely followed the lake and the scenery was gorgeous. The first stop was Dr. Konstatin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and Chateau Frank Champagne Cellars ( . Dr. Frank’s is probably the most celebrated Finger Lakes winery. He was the first to advocate growing vinifera grapes in this region. Wine Spectator has rated some of these wines as outstanding. Some of the vines from this winery are 50 years old. And the quality shows. Don’t miss the view from the tasting room! You reach it from a partially graveled road. Since this was a Monday, we were the only visitors at 10 AM and Bill took us on a lovely tasting. The tasting was free and there was no pretentiousness. The winery is a straight shooter. And it set the bar for our other tastings. Highlights were 2006 Dry Rose, 2005 Pinot Noir (2005 was a very good year for Finger Lakes reds), and 2005 Cabernet Franc. They know how to do Pinot Noir. They have also been the only winery, so far, to really produce a dark red. Most of the reds in this region have had a watered-down color. Dr. Frank used Riedel glasses when conducting tastings, but did not even draw attention to this fact.

Next up was Heron Hill ( ). They charged for tastings. I guess they needed to pay for their tasting room and restaurant. Once again, a great view. I went with the standard tasting for $2 and hubby did the Premium tasting for $5. This way we tasted different items and shared the experiences. The winner here was from the standard list was the 2003 Eclipse – a Bordeaux style blend (42% Merlot 42% Cabernet Franc 16% Cabernet Sauvignon). Lighter than a Bordeaux, but decent. And we liked the 2004 Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc from the premium list.

And yes, we went to Bully Hill ( That irreverent winery had a great view and a decent restaurant (Bully Hill restaurant). My husband had a glass of Cabernet Franc. I had a glass of the Foch (a red from Marechal Foch grapes). We skipped Love My Goat. For lunch he ordered the smoked pork barbecue. The sauce was a little too sweet, but the pork was smoked. I had the buffalo burger with smoked mozzarella and bacon. The burger was medium rare and delicious! We also had the corn bread. Very moist with corn kernels and hot peppers. It was served with a cranberry butter. Yummy while being unusual. After lunch we decided to skip the regular tasting (just too cheesy based on the banter we overheard from the tasting being conducted). We did pick up a bottle of the 2002 Cabernet Franc and looked around both gift shops.

One thing that was unusual about this wine region is that most of the wineries in the area and some of the restaurants indicated the amount of residual sugar in the wine to indicate dry to sweet. What a great thing for wine lovers of any stripe!

We then headed to Chateau Renaissance ( located beyond the bottom of Keuka Lake. They made a variety of wines but focused on Champagnes and a variety of fruit wines and fruit sparklers. The wine maker is French and because he uses the method champenoise technique he has reserved the right to call his sparklings champagne. His fruit sparklers had to be called sparkling because a non-grape entity or dosage was introduced. We really liked the Pear Sparkler and purchased a bottle. I also had the opportunity to taste Dandelion wine. Ever since reading Ray Bradbury, I had always wondered about Dandelion wine. It was surprisingly good. Sweet (but not cloyingly so) and fresh-tasting. The wine-maker is also an artist and designs the wine labels. Probably the most eccentric winery we visited. No charge for tasting.

As we made our way along the east side to the lake we stopped at Rooster Hill ( Only open for 5 years, they are already sponsoring wine dinners and comparative tastings on Friday evenings on their patio overlooking the lake. We liked the 2006 Traminette. Traminette is a hybrid grape akin to Gewurtztraminer developed by Cornell in the 1960’s. We also liked the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Tastings are $2.50 and include a souvenir glass. Since business was so slow we were not charged for tasting and did not take home a glass.

We were wined out and headed back to Penn Yan. Penn Yan is home to Burkitt Mills ( ). They produce wheat flour and buckwheat flour. We picked up buckwheat and buttermilk pancake mixes as well as some pastry flour. We then stopped into Oddfellows Coffee for Mochachinos. On another evening we had Gelato Affogato – vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over top. Yummy!

Dinner was at Esperanza Mansion ( A hotel, restaurant ,and banquet facility. We were seated in the grill room and had the best view of the northwest end of Keuka Lake. We had tired of Finger Lakes wine and ordered a Santa Cristina Antinori Sangiovese 2004. My husband had roasted diver scallops surrounded by pasta pearls, red bell peppers, green beans and, grilled zucchini. I had the flat iron steak with a peppercorn-cognac sauce with garlic mashed potatoes (real!) and sautéed green beans. A nice relaxing dinner watching the lake produce wispy clouds that travelled up the hill and settled in amongst the trees.

June 5

Seneca Lake – a longer lake with a lot more wineries. Most with great views. We started with Fox Run ( on the west side of Seneca Lake at 10 AM. We picked up a 2005 Lemberger ( a red grape that is used for German wines) and 2006 Dry Riesling. There was a charge for tasting, but we bought wine and were not charged.

Anthony Road ( was next. Spacious and airy tasting room. The charge for tasting was $1. 2006 Rose of Cabernet Franc and 2005 Cabernet France/Lemberger were the best bets.

Prejean Winery ( was very down to earth. We liked the 2005 Marechal Foch, the 2005 Cabernet Franc, and the 2005 Dry Riesling. They charged for tasting.

Miles Wine Cellars ( opened in 2001. Charged $2.50 for tasting and and we kept the glass. Best red wines of the trip! 2002 Milestone – 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot, aged in Hungarian oak. An outstanding meritage. The 2003 Merlot was very tasty and this was supposed to be an off year for reds. Both had a deep rich red color. They were not tasting the 2005 Cabernet Franc, but we purchased it anyway based on the other reds. Restroom was a port-a-potty – beware! The tasting house was located right on the western shore of Seneca Lake. Huge weeping willow in front of an ante bellum white house. They used to just grow grapes, but now makes wine with those grapes.

Herman J. Wiemer ( charged $3 to taste. The tasting room was in an old converted barn. They only sell wine, no wine paraphernalia, trinkets, or souvenirs. The 2006 Gewurztraminer - Best Gewurz we tasted! Floral, spicy, with a hint of citrus. We also liked the 2003 Select Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling dessert wine and the 2005 Cabernet Franc. Possibly the winemaker’s wife was pouring. She kept referring to the winemaker/owner as Herm. The winery also operates a nursery and supplies vinifera vines to North American grape producers.

Malabar X, a sailing ship on the lake was not running and there was no way to really get info on the next tour. We consoled ourselves by stopping in the Seneca Harbor Wine Center in Watkins Glen (at the bottom of Seneca lake) – really an outlet for Pleasant Valley wines ( that used to be part of the NY Taylor Wine company before big corporations such as Coke and Constellation Brands bought the label (but not the vineyards). All of the cheap NY brands remain such as Great Western Champagne. After lots of tastings and no lunch we succumbed to the offer of free tastings and purchased the Cream Sherry (mainly for sauces), sparkling Burgundy (for future sangria), and Chocolate Lab (a much cheaper version of Godiva Liqueur).

We wanted to go to Stone Cat for lunch. They were closed. So was Red Newt (the hazards of going right before peak season). A lot of restaurants are closed Monday, Tuesday, and even Wednesday.

Atwater had nice wines and a nice view on the East side of Seneca Lake and recommended Wagner Vineyards to eat. $2 tasting fee. We purchased the 2004 Cabernet-Merlot (53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot).

Wagner Vineyards had a Restaurant called The Ginny Lee and overlooked the lake. It was too windy to eat outside on the deck, but we had a nice indoor window seat. They had a fantastic smoked duck and almond salad with dried cranberries and a black sesame Riesling dressing. Yum, yum, yum! The duck was smoked to perfection. I washed it down with a Wagner cabernet franc (so-so). We did not stop for a tasting.

We backtracked to Standing Stone Vineyards. Very casual and rustic tasting area. The 2006 Riesling and 2005 Vidal Ice dessert wine were worth taking home.

Lamoreaux Landing ( boasted a nicely polished tasting room paired with a multi-pierced and tattooed pourer. Quite a contrast, but a good experience. They also featured local art. Tasting fee was $1. 2006 Semi-dry Riesling was the winner.

We drove up and rounded the top of the lake and headed to Amberg. A little off of the beaten wine path. $2 tasting and we kept the glass. The 2005 Semi-dry Traminette was lovely. The winemaker’s fiancée was pouring, filling in for the shop manager who was on maternity leave. Interesting because the fiancée is allergic to wine. It must be true love.

The last stop for the day was Belhurst ( This place located in Geneva, NY featured an Inn, restaurants and wine shop. Tasting fee was $.50 per taste. No great wines, but a great restaurant (Edgar’s) for dinner. And a wonderful view of the top of Seneca Lake. We had the pris fixe for $27.95. Creamy chicken vegetable soup – lots of flavor. Sesame crackers with whipped butter, chile con queso butter and gorgonzola-chive butter. Iceberg wedge salad with Italian vinaigrette dressing. 2 four ounce filets with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Dense chocolate cake for dessert. 2003 Whitehall Merlot for $40. The restaurant is in the castle-like part of the inn that was built in the 1880’s.

June 6

No more wineries! We decided to skip Cayuga Lake wineries and anything else we had missed along the other lakes. Today the air was cool (highs in the mid-60s!). We drove to Watkins Glen and walked the Gorge Trail at the Watkins Glen State Park. $6 entrance fee. The park has a number of trails, a swimming pool, campgrounds, and ball field. The Gorge Trail is 1 ½ miles one way and boasts 19 waterfalls. The views were spectacular. Restrooms are at the bottom and top of the trail. The trail can be wet in spots but the way is paved with a lot of steps. I highly recommend it.

For lunch we stopped at Montage, a mile north of Watkins Glen and attached to the Glen Motor Inn ( Overlooking the lower west side of Seneca Lake with huge picture windows, we watched small sail boats drift on the water. The lobby of the motel displayed old grand prix racing photos (Watkins Glen hosts a Grand Prix race as well as a NASCAR race every year). Jackie Stewart featured prominently among the pictures. The restaurant had typical ladies luncheon choices for the most part. I had roast turkey on a toasted whole grain ciabatta. My spouse had the tuna salad plate. In one corner of the room two tables of four retired women had just finished lunch and were playing bridge.

After lunch we headed for Canandaigua, NY following Canandaigua Lake to Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park ( $10 entrance fee. A Victorian summer home built in the late 1880’s for the Thompsons. Frederick Thompson founded the First National Bank of the City of New York which is now Citibank. The grounds were extensive, but a lot of the gardens continue to require extensive restoration work as well as parts of the house. The Italian and Rock gardens were favorites. In the house we particularly liked the Trophy Room with the Oriental art collection and the Double-Arched Bedroom on the second floor.

We returned to Penn Yan for dinner at Sarrasin’s on the Lake. It was a slow night and we had the casual dining room overlooking the northeast arm of Keuka Lake to ourselves. We ordered a bottle of 2005 Keuka Springs Cabernet Franc which turned out to be stellar. For dinner my husband splurged with the Manhattan Filet Mignon, stuffed with Brie and served with a cream sherry and mushroom sauce. Very rich and tasty. I just had to order the Breast of Duck with Savory Dried Cranberry Sauce, grilled medium rare. The entrees came with house salads with black sesame dressing and mashed potatoes and veggies (green beans and carrots on this night). We watched the sun slowly wink in and out of clouds as we drank in the scenery and the wonderful cabernet franc.

June 7-8

We left the Finger Lakes and cool weather and headed downto Gettysburg, PA. On the way we ate at the Ranch House Restaurant north of Harrisburg. Typical PA diner fare. I had the hot turkey sandwich and mashed potatoes. The potatoes were instant, but the turkey was honest-to-god sliced from the breast with a wonderful gravy. As we made our way to Gettysburg, we returned to 90 degree heat. We stayed in town at a Sentimental Journey Bed and Breakfast. Great location at 433 Baltimore St. Nice front porch with an old-fashioned glider and rocking chairs. Rooms were decorated in WWI or WWII era memorabilia. Breakfast was a box of Entenmanns’s doughnuts or muffins from the grocery store.

Dinner was just down the block at Farnsworth House. A “colonial” tavern. We ate in the garden which was very shady. This was the best aspect of this place. We were greeted by a seemingly sullen hostess and while our waitress was pleasant enough, the overall experience was poor. The menu outside listed game pie (turkey, pheasant, and duck) as well as crab cakes and prime rib. The menu we received had none of these listed. Big disappointment. And the wine list was the generic Ernest and Julio variety. The peanut soup was so-so. The Pennsylvania Dutch “Pot Pie” consisted of wide noodles, potatoes, and chicken chunks (it looked like canned chicken) in an extremely yellow sauce. The green beans cooked with ham did remind me of green beans my relatives made when I was growing up and that was a treat. My hubby had the hamburger steak and macaroni and cheese. Based on the quality of the dinner, we skipped dessert. We had thought about the Rum Cream Pie, but were afraid to try it. We opted for Kirwin’s Ice Cream located around the corner instead. After dinner and dessert we sat in the glider on the porch, watched the people and traffic, and enjoyed a Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc. Gettysburg was hopping even at 10 PM on a weeknight. An antique car show was rolling into town. This is apparently a gathering spot for the motorcycle crowd, also. And yes, we saw visitors in Civil War era garb. We counted at least four different ghost tour companies.
In the morning we walked over to the Gettysburg National Military Park. We wandered around the High Water Mark and over to the Pennsylvania Memorial. We wanted to walk across the field over to Seminary Ridge, but it was already a scorcher.

We wandered back into town and ate lunch at the Lincoln Diner. Bacon cheeseburgers and BLT’s were inexpensive and tasty.

The little town has a number of antique, gift, and souvenir shops dotted along the main square (or traffic circle). We darted in and out of them to cool off in the air conditioning.

In the afternoon we treated ourselves to sangria and artichoke dip at Spiritfield’s. They claim to have the best sangria in town. They probably have the only sangria in town, but it was cold and hit the spot on a hot day.

Dinner found us at The Blue Parrot Bistro ( ). The evening was cooling off somewhat and we decided to eat on the patio (brick alley).

We had just tasted our wine (2005 Stephen Vincent Merlot) and had put in our order when the wind gusted and black clouds arrived. We picked up our wine and glasses and were seated inside. By the way the red wine list only contained six options, but all of them were decent wines and at decent prices. The coarse bread was served with a little dish of mixed olives as well as herbed grated parmesan to sprinkle in the olive oil. We also had house salads with Greek dressing and feta. For entrees my spouse ordered the crab cakes with a chunky cole slaw. He thought they were very delightful. I ordered one of the specials – Veal Shank in a Demi-glace with roasted fennel and mashed potatoes. I was in heaven. The shank bone was at least 5 inches high sitting up on the plate – great presentation. And extremely tender. I also loved the roasted fennel and the potatoes. A wonderful dinner to end our vacation.

I leave you with a final view of Keuka Lake as the sun sets.


Anonymous said...

Very nice...I ended up googling crème brule French toast as I had to know what that was all about. Ihave disitinct feeling I will be eating that this Saturday morning!!


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful way to tell the tale of your journey. Your photos look professional. Thanks for sharing.


lstewart said...

alot of places you visited you are right on on some of the wines are great and others are not.If your ever in the area again check out bristol harbour in canadaigua similar view to esperanza...they have a championshop golf course,spectacular food.