New York State is home to so many landmarks- both historical and natural. It’s more than just the biggest city in the US and it’s the reason I love living here. One of my favorite regions in New York has to be the Finger Lakes region. Full of lakes, waterfalls, parks, wineries, and breweries, you can’t go wrong! It’s where my husband and I almostgot married, before we chose Cazenovia. But, it’s still where we like to spend a lot of our time, and we always bring our friends from out-of-town. So when I learned that the Cayuga Lake Wine & Herb Fest was falling on the weekend of my 30th birthday, it was an easy decision for how to celebrate!
Navigating the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is oldest wine trail in the United States. Awesome, I know. Home to 16 wineries along the banks of Cayuga Lake, it’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway with your dog. Yes! ALL of the wineries along the trail are dog-friendly – you’re encouraged to bring your pup along! Just be sure to confirm that Fido is welcome wherever you stay for the night too. Out of the 16 wineries, 14 participated in the wine & herb fest, and we almost made it to them all. We fell one short. So close! During the festival each winery gives out one herb per ticket (single or couple), a food sample, and up to five wine samples.
When you purchase your tickets for any of the wine trail events, you have to choose your starting winery. This helps control the crowds and spread them out around the lake. While you can choose to start at any of them, we chose to start right at the top of the lake at Montezuma and work our way down.
Let’s Get Going!
At your first winery, you’ll check in and pick up your gifts for the weekend: a wine glass (or travel mug if you’re a DD), a box for your herbs, and your first herb. Each winery will give you a new herb, so your box will be full by the end of the trail! One of the best parts of the wine and herb fest is getting to try herbs in new recipes so you can appreciate them in new ways. Even better, you get the fresh herbs to grow at home and the recipe book to replicate the dishes!
Montezuma Winery is a little off the beaten path from the rest of the wineries, located right off of the thruway, close to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. It also has more than just wine – they are also home to Hidden Marsh Distillery and offer samples of corn whiskey, vodka, and maple liqueur. Definitely try these when you’re visiting! The bee vodka is probably my favorite spirit there. As far as the wine, they offer a variety of sweet options that I really enjoy, my favorite being Diamond. Another highlight of Montezuma’s is their eclectic gift shop. I just love browsing all of the cute things for sale!
Montezuma’s Herb: Eggplant
Montezuma’s Sample: Eggplant Caviar w/ Pita Chips
Voted “Winery with the Best Gift Shop” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Swedish Hill Winery
Swedish Hill Winery might possibly be most famous for its miniature donkey, Doobie! Make sure you visit him and his buddy Sven when you’re at the winery. And enjoy a glass of Doobie Blues while you sit on the deck! Swedish Hill is located at a farm setting, with a gorgeous pond in the back. It’s one of my favorites to walk around. As far as the wine, check out the Svenska and Jack Ass series!
Swedish Hill’s Herb: Cilantro
Swedish Hill’s Sample: Chicken Tortilla Soup
Voted “Winery with the Best Mascot” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Varick Winery & Vineyard
Varick Winery, just like all the rest, has a beautiful setting in a rustic building and is filled with condiments, jellies, butters, honey, oils, salsas, etc. I have friends who come to Varick specifically to buy some of their sauces. While you’re sampling the wine, they also sell these boozy no-bake cookies in a variety of flavors. You must get some. The winery is also home to an old cobblestone house that has been repurposed as an inn, and it’s beautiful! It is available for small private events and is a place that I definitely want to stay at in the future.
Varick’s Herb: Celery
Varick’s Sample: Fruity Pasta Salad
Voted “Winery with the Best Snacks” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Knapp Winery probably had my favorite interior. It had such a rustic chic style that just spoke to me – I loved it! The setting itself is almost like a big house with a wraparound porch connected to a barn. Sounds weird, I know, but it works. They are known locally for their pasta wines, which go great paired with dinner at home. My longtime favorite of theirs is Superstition, but all of their sweets are fantastic. Their sample was unique, but delicious – a piece of cornbread topped with strawberry basil salsa. Yum!
Knapp’s Herb: Basil
Knapp’s Sample: Cornbread w/ Strawberry Basil Salsa
Voted “Winery with the Best Interior Style” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Goose Watch Winery
Goose Watch is hands down beautiful. Located on a hill overlooking the fields and the lake, you can’t find a better place to relax along the wine trail. In what looks like a summer vacation house you’ll find the winery, complete with an upstairs that overlooks the store below and a big, beautiful deck along the back. I could have sat there all day and just stared into the distance. To drink, they have a great semi-sweet cider that is pretty tasty! And of course I can’t deny the pink moscato – always a favorite of mine and the first of its kind along the lake.
Goose Watch’s Herb: Tomato
Goose Watch’s Sample: Chili
Voted “Winery with the Best Spot to Relax” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Buttonwood Grove Winery
Buttonwood is another spot that has some beautiful views with a large wraparound deck to spend your time. Inside there are large windows so you can keep gazing outside. Their wines are nice, but you’ve got to try a wine slushie! Their slushies are among the best in the region, so get yourself one and sit on the deck soaking up the sunshine.
Buttonwood Grove’s Herb: Bell Pepper
Buttonwood Grove’s Sample: Mexican Pasta Salad
Voted “Winery with the Best View” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Toro Run Winery
Toro Run is another popular venue on Cayuga Lake, especially for big events. Unfortunately I’m not as big a fan as many of my friends because most of their wines are on the drier side. But I’ve been told their dry wines are fantastic! Maybe someday my palate will change. Regardless, they have a cute venue and yummy food.
Toro Run’s Herb: Marjoram
Toro Run’s Sample: Swedish Meatballs
Voted “Winery with the Best Dry Wines” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Thirsty Owl Wine Company
Thirsty Owl has always been a favorite of one of my best friend’s, but this was my first time visiting. And I have to say… wow. Besides the very drunk guy who fell in love with my husband because he was wearing a Miami Dolphins Marino t-shirt – and wanted to go to a game with us… Their sample was by far my favorite of the day. And I was surprised! I’ve never considered myself to be a big fan of fennel, but their fennel and roasted pepper soup was amazing! The winery itself is located right next to Cayuga Ridge – close enough that you could walk between them – and looks like someone’s house from the outside. But inside you’ll find high ceilings and a café serving delicious food. Don’t forget to buy a bottle of the apple wine to take home with you.
Thirsty Owl’s Herb: Fennel
Thirsty Owl’s Sample: Fennel & Roasted Pepper Soup
Voted “Winery with the Best Food” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery
Cayuga Ridge is literally in a large, old barn. And it works. Attached to the barn is The Copper Oven, which unfortunately was not open yet for the season. It had gotten to the point that I was hangry for lunch and all I wanted was their wood-fired pizza. Especially since I don’t like jalapeno. But for those who do, their jalapeno jelly was delish! And you could buy a jar to take home. As for their wine, check out the Peach Essence.
Cayuga Ridge’s Herb: Jalapeno
Cayuga Ridge’s Sample: Jalapeno Jelly & Cream Cheese
Voted “Winery with the Best Barn” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Hosmer had some pretty neat features, including a craft market in the parking lot, very cool gifts in their shop, and a beautiful upstairs venue with a barn vibe and a “hidden staircase” to get back downstairs. Also, once you were back downstairs you enter a wine cellar where they were selling samples and bowls of homemade soups – yum!
Hosmer’s Herb: Oregano
Hosmer’s Sample: Parmesan Oregano Foccacia Twists
Voted “Winery with the Best Architecture” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Lucas is another one of the more popular ones along the lake. Their Tug Boat Red has long been a favorite of mine and my mother’s – nice and sweet like we prefer. Their sangria is just as great and now comes in the big 1.5L bottles with beautiful neon artwork – perfect for summer! They also offer one of the best wine flight deals on the trail. When I saw that their herb was lavender, and that they were sampling brownies, I was in heaven. And those brownies were fudgy and delicious, even though I was so full from the day! When you’re at Lucas, take some time to enjoy the gardens and get some photos outside. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Lucas’s Herb: Lavender
Lucas’s Sample: Lavender Brownies
Voted “Winery with the Best Landscaping” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Americana Vineyards is home to a winery, brewery, and café. We started our day with breakfast at the café – yum! The whole place has a very vintage, Americana vibe, just as the name suggests. And there were the friendliest dogs! I wanted to take them all home with me. When you’re sampling the wine, be sure to try the Sweet Rosie. They serve the sample with a piece of their homemade chocolate fudge. Together with the wine it tastes like a chocolate-covered strawberry!
Americana’s Herb: Chive
Americana’s Sample: Chive & Asiago Potato Bites
Voted “Winery with the Best Dogs” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Six Mile Creek Vineyard
Six Mile is located south of the lake, in Ithaca, with some stunning views of the surrounding area. In addition to their wine, Six Mile is known for their spirits, most notably their limoncella. They are sweet! For the wines, the blushes were my favorite. Ithaca Blush has vanilla and honeysuckle flavors! Also, the pumpkin sage soup was amazing. I wish I could have eaten the whole tray of it! My favorite part of Six Mile was how incredibly friendly and generous the staff was, especially with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. They were wonderful!
Six Mile’s Herb: Sage
Six Mile’s Sample: Pumpkin Sage Soup
Voted “Winery with the Friendliest Staff” by Wanderlust on a Budget
Unfortunately, due to timing and logistics, we did not make it to the 14th winery, Long Point. But, since that one is on the side of the lake closer to my house, I’ll easily be able to get back there soon!
Final Words of Advice:
Buy your ticket early. The wine trail events almost always sell out, so plan early! Especially if you have a big group of friends planning to do the trail together. And remember, if your group is larger than ten people, most of the wineries ask for reservations so they don’t get too crowded at any given time.
Pace yourself! The wine tour is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the wineries, take in the views, savor the food, and check out the gift shops! It’s not a competition, but a relaxing weekend getaway.
Be prepared for crowds. These events are crazy popular and the wineries will likely be crowded. Parking may be scarce, but it’s the perfect area to enjoy long walks from the car.
Check out the tour companies. There are several local businesses that have buses and limos for hire for the weekend. This is the best way to enjoy the wine trail with a big group!
Be safe! If you plan on really indulging in the wine selections, make sure that you have a designated driver or alternate plan to get back home or to your hotel.
Take a slight detour along the trail and visit Taughannock Falls (pronounced Tuh-GAN-ic; strange, I know). Taughannock is one of the most famous, prettiest, and tallest waterfalls in the region. And it’s FREE to visit! There is a parking lot with a visitor center that leads to a staircase with a beautiful view of the falls.