So every year we celebrate my birthday in late September with a weekend trip to the Apple Harvest Festival in Ithaca, NY. (It’s always a few days after my actual birthday, but that’s fine.) The Wife has despaired of finding a little weekender trip that we could take around her birthday, which is February 25…until last year when she discovered an outfit called Grapehounds, which is a meet-up for greyhound owners and/or aficionados that uses wine and touring the wine country of New York’s Finger Lakes region as its centering point and activity. Well, a couple of years ago they started a winter version of the Grapehounds event, called Winterhounds, and it takes place right around The Wife’s birthday! So this year was our second go-round. We drove with Cane to Geneva, NY, where we stayed at the Ramada Inn that is located right on the northern shore of Seneca Lake (largest of the Finger Lakes), and we spent two nights socializing with other greyhound owners and most of Saturday driving to wineries for tastings.
Wine tastings are, it turns out, a really enjoyable activity. Last year we only stayed one night and the weather on Saturday was godawful (cold and windy and constantly rainy, making the winery grounds muddy messes), so we only checked out two wineries. This year things were better, so we made it to three wineries and a cider house. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider that we chose our wineries based on what we wanted to taste, and consider that we made a full circumnavigation of Seneca Lake, which is about 38 miles long, and going to the cider house involved a jaunt to the Cayuga Lakeshore, which is one lake over, and when we realized late in the day that Cane needed a good, honest walk after being in and out of the car all day, we made a quick jaunt to Taughannock Falls.
In short, three wineries and a cider house made for a packed day. A tasting should not be an in-and-out experience. You go inside the tasting room, and you pay for the privilege (tastings were discounted for Winterhounds tourees, and the dogs were allowed inside!), and then you look over a sheet of that winery’s offerings, usually selecting five to taste. Then a nice server pours tasting portions into your little glass, and you taste. You can do the whole slurping-through-your-teeth thing, and you can be all pompous and talk about the oakiness and the mouthfeel of the tannins and all that crap, or you can do what we did: “Wow, dear, this one’s great! We should buy two bottles of this!” And then you buy whatever you want.
Which is how we ended up with eighteen bottles: fifteen of wine and three of cider. Ayup.
When we arrived, it was very windy and the lake wasn’t just choppy, it was straight-up surf-pounding.
Waves were creating spray when they smacked up against the distant pier. The wind was coming straight up the river valley, making for an impressive scene. Saturday wasn’t windy at all, but then it picked up again Sunday, allowing for parasailing by these hardcore folk:
Before we left for our winery experiences, I hung around in Geneva a little while The Wife awaited our breakfast sandwiches from a little cafe there. Geneva is a really interesting town–in fact, I love most of these upstate NY towns, the ones that were shaped by the train lines in the 1800s and are still holding on even though there’s a real sense that the world has passed towns like this by. In truth, I could very easily live my life in the Finger Lakes region, with its railroad-based towns and their old character and the hills and water and the glens and the streams and the vineyards and the forests.
There is simply no time of the year when the Finger Lakes are not beautiful. None.
And then, it was on with the overalls and off to the wineries!
(Oh, check out this little watch pendant I got at last year’s Erie County Fair! I’d forgotten that I bought it.)
Gratuitous selfie with Cane:
Seneca Shore Winery was our first. It’s a medieval-themed place, and it’s one of the two we visited last year. We loved their products, so we visited again and had just as good a time. Six bottles here. Great stuff! Our favorite is the cranberry wine. It is so good.
Next was Serenity Vineyards.
We weren’t as enamored of the wines here, but that’s not their fault, just a matter of taste. Their product is more focused on dry wines, and both The Wife and I gravitate to sweeter, crisp wines. Their product is fine! We got three bottles.
One notable thing here is that Cane met the barn cat named Stanley, who did not like Cane. Stanley actually scratched Cane’s nose and drew blood! It’s OK, though. Cane barely noticed and he’s fine. It happens. You don’t mess with big old barn cats!
Next up was Fruit Yard Winery.
I chose this place because its focus is apparently on fruit wines, and not necessarily grape wines. We loved this place and walked out with six more bottles. Fantastic stuff! Cherry wine and strawberry wine and peach wine and raspberry wine. This place will get a return visit!
Wine in the Finger Lakes is a big deal. Some of the wineries are gigantic places, and many parties attending tastings do so via chartered shuttle bus or even limousine. The ones we visited were smaller than the biggies, but there was still a lot of coming-and-going at each. (It’s not just wine, either: there are craft breweries and distilleries getting into the mix, too. I didn’t investigate the distilleries much, but I will before next year, just in case any are in the rum game.)
We stopped for lunch at Watkins Glen, home of an astonishing state park and the Watkins Glen International Speedway, hence this wall mural:
While The Wife was ordering lunch at a deli there, I paused to pay respect to one of the giants of NASCAR:
(No, that’s not a gravestone. It’s like a Walk-of-Fame for car racers.)
After the Glen, we started up the eastern side of Seneca Lake, branching off to drive to the Cayuga Lake valley, which has more wineries, of course. Our goal here was the Finger Lakes Cider House, because we’ve taken a real liking to sparkling cider of late. (This started because The Wife needed a gluten-free alternative to beer, and she hasn’t warmed to any GF beers yet.) This place is a serving-house for a number of local cider blends, a couple of which we actually sampled last year in Ithaca. The Cider House is in the middle of farm country, and the road it’s on is somewhere between dirt and pavement…and yet the place was hopping when we stopped. Full bar plus tasting room/restaurant with lots of tables. We bought a “flight” of ciders to taste, which is five four-ounce pours of cider. We bought three bottles of cider here, to go along with our wine. We’ll remember this place, too.
After the Cider House, we decided to quickly run to Taughannock Falls to give Cane a decent walk so he could stretch his legs and, you know, take care of some other doggie business. With recent rains and snowmelt, we got to see Taughannock with some real flow going over the brink. Usually there isn’t much water in the stream by the time we usually visit in late September or early October, and in fact two years ago most of Upstate NY experienced a bad drought that left the Falls completely dry when we arrived. Not so this time! (Also the off-season meant that we were able to take pictures with minimal interruption.)
Of course, the main focus of the event wasn’t even wine, but greyhounds! And there were so many. I’ve never seen that many in one place.
All in all, quite the weekend for all! And now it’s over. But at least we still have seventeen bottles of wine and cider to remember it by!
(Oh, you were paying attention above? Yes, I did say eighteen. But we drank one already, you see.)