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Exploring the Finger Lakes Wineries Region

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Instead of planning a trip to the always crowded Napa Valley, try visiting these up and coming wineries in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. More than 100 vineyards are scattered along the valleys and bluffs, on crystal clear lake shores and near quaint New England towns. Most wineries are centered on three primary lakes: Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka. Named for their finger-like shapes, these narrow glacial lakes offer slate- and nutrient-rich soil for grape-growing perfection. The small towns that dot the edges of the lakes, are convenient launching pads for creating your own weekend wine tasting tour with ease.

Where to Stay

There are lodging options all throughout the Finger Lakes region, but try the Harbor Hotel at Watkins Glen first. Located at the southernmost tip of Seneca Lake, this hotel is centrally located and ideal for exploring the best of wine country. This Four Diamond award winner has contemporary rooms, hardwood floors and beautiful frontage on Seneca Lake. If you're dreaming of a hillside escape, this cabin rental would be a better option. Secluded, serene and thoughtfully appointed with local treasures and art it's away from it all, but still close enough to be convenient. After checking in, try dinner at Seneca Harbor. This unique restaurant, converted 1876 train station, has perfect sunset views of Seneca Lake.

Day One: Saturday

Begin your trip on Keuka, the smallest of the main lakes. Home to multiple wineries, Keuka Lake Vineyards specializes in dry, crisp wines in a wide range of styles. With many wines ranking 90 points and above in Wine Spectator, KLV offers award-winning wines in a small and welcoming setting. With trip insurance from Allianz Global Assistance taking care of you, feeling adventurous is that much easier. Test that sense of adventure by participating in KLV's annual Harvest Day. Each fall, a sign-up is offered to any and all helping hands available to harvest the Riesling crop. Each volunteer picker is assigned a row, given free lunch and offered a 33 percent employee discount for all bottles purchased that day. Not a bad reward for an undercover look at wine from the ground up.

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After harvest, take a break from the wine tasting and head into the wilderness of Watkins Glen State Park. Nineteen waterfalls, towering cliffs, rock formations and verdant trails offer a welcome respite from the bustle of the winery crowds. Booking your travel insurance was the easy part; the climbing may be a bit harder. The Gorge Trail has 800 stone steps and steep inclines, so it's a good idea to supportive footwear. There are no bathrooms or drinking fountains along the trail, so pack a water bottle. Jaw-dropping scenery is everywhere in Watkins Glen, don't forget your camera in the car.

For dinner, MuraBella's Italian Steakhouse, which is just under three miles south of Watkins Glen, is a welcome change of pace from lunch. In addition to steaks and pizza, you'll find offerings from Finger Lakes Distilling on the craft cocktail list — a nice touch of local flavor.

Day Two: Sunday

Start off your Sunday morning on the western bank of Seneca Lake, where you'll find the prestigious Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in the region. Specializing in Reislings, Wiemer offers rotating varieties in a new modern tasting room. Small tables are available for lingering and exposed wood and beams surround the space. When visiting, don't miss out on snagging a bottle or two of the 94-point Cuvée Brut 2011.

Next, hop over to the other side of Seneca Lake and visit Bloomer Creek Vineyards. This small boutique winery offers "wine made with a sense of adventure". All of Bloomer Creek's wines are natural wines, left alone and varying wildly based upon what the growing season gives each year. Currently, Bloomer Creek is the only vineyard offering natural wine in the Finger Lakes. With only one employee, their tasting room hours are limited to the weekends or by appointment. To play it safe, opt for the appointment. You won't want to miss a taste of these unforgettable and dynamic wines.

If you visit in the spring, grab some lunch at the Stonecat Cafe just north of Bloomer Creek. They have limited seasonal hours but amazing organic food. Guests rave about their catfish, homemade lemonade and daily specials that change with the harvest. For a year-round staple, try Danos Heuriger on Seneca. This Viennese wine garden has unique food all served a la carte for the indecisive diner.

If you have a bit more time to spare after Bloomer Creek, visit Taughannock Falls State Park. Trails run above the waterfall or below, offering multiple vantage points for prime sightseeing. There's also access to a beach on Cayuga Lake for unwinding in the sun or shade before hitting the road home.

Insider tip: If you want to start collecting wine from the Finger Lakes, now is the time to grab very inexpensive bottles while you can. With the press love pouring in, bottles from this rapidly growing wine-making region won't stay this affordable for long.

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May 09, 2016