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(2013 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Rolling hills, crystal-blue lakes and charming villages are what you’ll find in the Finger Lakes, located in upper New York State.

On a satellite map, the 11 long, narrow bodies of water look like claw marks on the earth. Formed during the last ice age, some of the lakes reach depths of 200 metres. While the scenery and rugged terrain are idyllic for recreation activities including kayaking, cycling and golf, what the region is most known for is its wine. 

Dating back to the mid-19th century when locals discovered their soil and climate were similar to some of Europe’s best wine regions, the Finger Lakes has been a major grape-growing and wine-producing region, ranked second in the United States to Napa Valley. Vineyards are scattered around the shores of three of the largest lakes (Seneca, Canandaigua and Cayuga) where they benefit from the warmth of the water through the winter and its cooling effect in the summer, creating perfect conditions for producing white wine varieties.

Many of these vineyards produce world-class wines; yet I don’t recognize a single label among the chardonnays, Rieslings and ice wines. Although the region is only a few hours’ drive from Ontario’s wine capital Niagara-on-the-Lake, Finger Lakes wines are virtually unheard of across the border. “We don’t sell any of our wines in Canada,” I’m told repeatedly by vineyard owners. “We wish Canadians could take more wine across the border,” is another line I often hear. 

Wine Trails

You may not be able to get it at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it while you’re there. The Finger Lakes is home to four wine trails that are clearly marked along the country roads.

The Seneca trail is the largest and where I begin my journey at The Three Brothers Winery. This amusement park of wineries offers everything from highbrow to honky-tonk. Owner David Mansfield was inspired by his and his two brothers’ distinct personalities and designed wineries to represent each one.

Stony Lonesome Wine Cellars (a.k.a., David) looks and feels like a typical winery with an expansive deck overlooking the vineyard. Next door is Passion Feet, a whimsical winery, which I’m told often hosts bachelorette parties. Pop music fills the space while playful labels “Flirtation” and “Take Me Home” line the shelves. “This is the brother who likes show tunes,” explains Mansfield. Enjoy a wine slushie as you relax on the outdoor patio or carry it down the dirt trail leading to Bagg Dare. A rusted pickup truck with a fake skeleton hanging out the window sits outside the entrance. Inside is filled with old gas pumps, road signs and bicycles surrounding a large wooden bar. “This is the brother who has a bit of a wild side,” says Mansfield. I could have guessed such from the suggestive labels.

The estate charges $20 for five tastings in each location. Following lunch at The Three Brothers, I was ready for a nap. The other 33 wineries on the trail would wait for another day.

Clearly wineries are the main event where grapes are concerned, but as I learned on my three-day trip, grapes produce much more than wine.  

Fruity Options

A local delicacy, grape pie takes centre stage in Naples, a small town near Canandaigua Lake, where it’s estimated nearly 70,000 grape pies are sold annually. The best-known grape pie maker is Monica Schenk. What started in 1983 as a cooler filled with pies and a cash box based on the honour system by the side of the road has blossomed into a full-fledged business called Monica’s Pies. Schenk sells 10,000 to 15,000 grape pies per year and 2,000 during Naples Grape Festival weekend (September 28 and 29). 

Grapes not only taste good in pastries and wine, they’re also a Finger Lakes anti-aging secret. The fruit is rich in antioxidants and powerful exfoliants that leave skin hydrated and help fade age spots. I head to Park West Spa to indulge in their wine tour package, which includes a champagne facial and wine body wrap. As the gooey liquid is brushed over my body, I wonder what the early settlers who planted the vines would think if they knew their beloved grapes were being used to give women softer skin. I’m wrapped in plastic like a grape burrito and left to ferment as the scent of grapes overwhelms the room. Unwrapped and showered, I leave the spa with skin as soft and glowing as a naked grape.

By the end of my journey, I’ve been rubbed inside and out with the famous Finger Lakes grapes. While vineyard owners complained about how they wished Canadians could take more wine home, I couldn’t disagree more. It’s such a good excuse to go back.

Travel Planner

From Toronto, take the Queen Elizabeth Way to Fort Erie, cross into the United States at the Peace Bridge and follow the I-90 South to the I-90 East to exits 44 through 40. For more information, visit:

The Finger Lakes Visitors Connection: VisitFingerLakes.com

Wine Trails: fingerlakeswinecountry.com

Naples Grape Festival: naplesgrapefest.org

Monica’s Pies: monicaspies.com

Simply Crepes: simplycrepes.com

Park West: parkwesthairdesignandspa.com

Isabella Spa: belhurst.com

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