The First Wine Trail in the Country

Did you know that the first organized wine trail in America is in upstate New York? The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail in the Finger Lakes Region makes the claim as the longest running wine trail in the country. But it’s not the easiest place to visit, especially for a Californian. Fortunately for me, my husband and I were in the area visiting our son at college, so we enthusiastically extended our trip to spend a day wine tasting.

Will, host at Sheldrake

Will, host at Sheldrake

Oh, I wish we had three days, as did the people we first met on the trail. We were sitting at the tasting bar of Sheldrake Point Winery, enjoying our host, Will, sipping a delicious dry Riesling, when the people beside us explained their schedule. They visit each year from Philly and spend their first day on the Cayuga Lake Trail, their second on Seneca Lake Trail, and their third on Keuka Lake Trail. In just three days, they said, they buy their wine for the entire year ahead. Not a bad system.

But my husband and I had much less time; we were there to live in the moment and enjoy the differences between these wineries and those we know well in California. Here is what we noticed about the New York wineries:

1- Their tasting fees are just $5.

View from porch at Toro Winery

View from porch at Toro Winery

2- Sometimes grass grows right up to and through the rows of vines. This is beautiful to behold, especially for my husband who grew up in grass-deprived California.

3- It rains. Okay, it rains in California too, but not enough. Our day on the Cayuga Lake Trail was a bit wet, and that was fine with us. We ate outside on the vine-covered porch at Knapp Winery so we could watch the rain.

4- There are no traffic jams getting from winery to winery. If you’re lucky, you will have to share the road with a horse and buggy driven by a Mennonite.

5- Unusual varieties. Some, like Aromella at Goose Watch Winery, aren’t sold anywhere else in the world. Unique varietals are available on the Cayuga Trail due to the grape-breeding program at Cornell University, only a mile or two away.

One similarity between East and West Coast wineries is the hospitality. There’s friendliness all around. Some people may think the wine industry is uppity, but that is far from my experience. Whether I’m visiting as a tourist or creating a wine label design for a client, if there are any generalizations to make, I’d say the industry is full of earthy, hearty, and generous hard working people.

In case you are reading this post to plan your own adventure to the area, here are three more highlights you might want to remember:

Doobie at Swedish Hill Winery

Doobie, Swedish Hill Winery

• The gorgeous lake view at Toro Run Winery, a recent addition to the trail. I loved their Grüner Veltliner too.

• The Rieslings were wonderful everywhere, especially the gold winners at Swedish Hill Winery. No doubt Doobie, the owners’ old miniature donkey, sweetened the experience for us. He met us at the fence and ate a few bar crackers out of our hands.

• The menagerie of tastes at Montezuma Winery. In all my tastings as a wine label designer, I have never seen such a crazy long menu. Of course, I can only comment on what I sampled, but, wow, you have to try their Sparkling Rhubarb.

I’m sure there is more to say, but, again, we only had one day. If you would like to add more to the list, please do so in the comments!


2 Responses to The First Wine Trail in the Country

  1. suja says:

    what fun! and to connect with Luke as well. The differences in the styles of the wineries was interesting. So ,are friends going to taste any of the acquired wines from this area? Keep up the adventures; I enjoy learning about new areas.

  2. Gail Johnston says:

    Hi Suja,

    We had to travel light, but I’m planning on ordering online. I’ll let you know!


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