(photo courtesy of VisitFingerLakes.com)
The Finger Lake Region's earliest vineyard on record belonged to the Rev. William Boswick, and in 1829 the good Rev. grew Catawba and Isabella grapes in his rectory garden, located in Hammondsport, New York. He distributed cuttings to parishioners and soon the Reverend's good word and offshoots (from his vineyards) were blossoming throughout the entire Finger Lake's region. The first ever winery registered was the Pleasant Valley Wine Company here in 1860 . They were designated US Bonded Winery # 1.
In 1866, the western shores of Seneca Lake now had its first winery, the Seneca Lake Grape Wine Company. The winery planted 100 acres of grapes. At the time, it was the largest vineyard in the state. By 1869 they were producing 14,000 gallons of Seneca Lake's first commercial wine.
Then in 1882, New York State opened its Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva located at the north end of Seneca Lake. Its grape breeding and research programs helped to substantiate Seneca Lake as a prominent player in the grape growing industry. Today, it's a (SUNY) Cornell University endeavor, continued (from and) for agricultural growth in New York today.
The Finger Lakes unique geologic and topographic landscape makes the area perfect for large scale grape-growing. By 1900 there were over 20,000 acres of vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes Region and it had more than 50 different wineries. The climate and topography lends itself throughout all of the five major lakes for adventurous winemakers attempting their fortunes.
Soon afterwards, The Erie Canal linked the Finger Lakes Region to the outside world. Steamships, barges and ferries quickly became Seneca Lake's ambassadors of commerce and trade. Backyard fruit trees and arbors quickly grew into commercial orchards and vineyards.
Seneca Lake is 632 feet deep - the deepest of the Finger Lakes. During the winter months the water temperature rarely dips below the freezing mark. This, in turn, acts as a warming agent for the surrounding shores and hillsides. The water temperature radiates up the slopes sheltering the vineyards from the frigid "colds" of winter. In the spring, the cooler temperatures of the lake help to delay the bud-break until (most of) the risk of a harsh-winter has passed. In reverse, after the hot summer months, the warm surface temperatures helps "postpone" the first frosts. This allows the grapes proper time to ripen without being stilted from a premature start during their fruition cycles.
In 1976, New York State passed the Farm Winery Act reforming tax and marketing regulations to encourage grape growers to expand into the wine production business. And Seneca Lake became home to many new wineries: Glenora Wine Cellars, Wagner Vineyards, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards and Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards.
The Finger Lakes Region is one of the premier winery and grape growing destinations in the Eastern United States. With more than 42 wineries located on Seneca Lake's shores alone, the region now rivals the most popular wine regions of California, Washington State and parts of Europe.
In 1986, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail was formed and is currently the largest and most active wine trail in New York State, hosting many special festivals and events for every member of the family, children alike, throughout the year. Cayuga Lake, Keuka Lake and Canandaigua Lake also have designated wine trails too.
So as a fun vacation destination, there is no reason not to venture outside this fall-harvest-season for a bit of edible nature produced by the Finger Lakes' fertile growing grounds, including grapes, homemade pumpkin pies, apples, apple cider donuts and a good vintage of New York State wine... considered some of the finest wine in all of the world.
Below are a few tourism contacts that should get you started, giving all the pointers you'll need for a fabulous "wine trail" journey. The rest, they say, “is history!”
e-Brand Manager for FLVC
Morgan McLaughlin, President
Finger Lakes Wine Country (privately owned company)
Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance
300 Lake Street
Penn Yan, New York 14257