Cheap Trips: Wined and Dined

Outside of California, the largest wine-producing region in the United States is the Finger Lakes — and with the drive time clocking in at just under five hours, experiencingthis wine country is a lot more accessible for Clevelanders.
The Trip: A wine-tasting extravaganza
The Travelers: Two couples
The Tab:
$118 Gas (Roundtrip, Cleveland to Seneca Lake, in Geneva, and back, 590 miles, in a car averaging 20 miles per gallon with gas at $4 per gallon) $8 Six wine and/or mead tastings at Earle Estates
A Lincoln Town Car, with driver, for six hours, from Finger Lakes Winery Tours
Five wine tastings at Hermann J. Wiemer
Eight wine tastings and seven beer tastings at Wagner Vineyards
$1,180 Two rooms for two weekend nights at Belhurst Castle’s Vinifera Inn.
$158.70 Dinner at Edgar’s (escargot and pheasant-stuffed mushroom cap appetizers, four entrees and a bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer Reisling) Located at Belhurst Castle
$1784.70 Total (not including taxes, tips or surcharges) $446.17 per person

The Finger Lakes host more than 9,000 acres of vineyards and boast four wine trails (the Canandaigua, Keuka, Cayuga and Seneca). For wine lovers, the options can be overwhelming.

Our advice? Go big: Point your nose down the Seneca Trail, the largest of the four routes, with more than 30 wineries, plus more restaurants and places to stay than the other trails.

If you’ve done a winery tour before, you’ve probably already learned the first rule of the road: Have someone else do the driving. Finger Lakes Winery Tours will swaddle you in the luxury of a Lincoln Town Car, and also offers everything from party buses to a Ford Excursion SUV that runs on biodiesel. The company will help you plan your trip from start to finish if you like, or simply offer the services of a car and driver for the day.

Dozens of wineries are at your fingertips — but there a few places that should be at the top of your list.

1. Earl Estates Meadery
Mead has suffered a bit of a decline in popularity since the Middle Ages, but owner Ester Earl is bringing back the sweet stuff at her meadery. Taste meads made from almost every fruit imaginable: pear, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, apricot and even rhubarb. Pick your poison from three varieties of honey mead (one of the most popular is the black-raspberry and honey concoction).

2. Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
This boutique winery is owned by a German immigrant who makes wine in the traditional style of his homeland. The vineyard has a reputation as one of the best in the area, with a massive collection of awards including the prestigious New York State Governor’s Cup for its 2002 Dry Riesling.

3. Wagner
A stop at this vineyard, brewing company and cafe could take a while. But don’t rush it; instead, save it for the end of the day and plan to linger. You’ll be rewarded with one of the most extensive wine lists on the tour, and, during summer months, live music on Friday nights on the brew deck. The Ginny Lee features American bistro cuisine with a creative twist, with menu highlights including a smoked-duck-and-toasted-almond salad. Every menu item helpfully features a suggested house wine pairing.

4. Belhurst Castle
Tuck in for the night at Belhurst, an 1880s manor house turned luxury hotel overlooking Seneca Lake. Rooms in the newer, attached Vinifera Inn feature modern amenities such as Jacuzzis and classic treats including a fireplace. The estate also contains a tasting room and two restaurants, Edgar’s Restaurant (with an upscale, classic steak-and-seafood menu) and Stonecutter’s Pub (the perfect place to unwind with a beer after a long day of wine tasting).


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