Discover the Seneca Lake Wine Region
Last Updated on January 21, 2020.
If you’re looking to please the widest range of palates, Seneca Lake is your best bet in the Finger Lakes. With over 60 wineries, breweries and distilleries, it is the largest and most active of the lakes in this region. During the summer, this lake is alive with busloads of wine lovers and parties visiting the larger wineries, as well as lake-wide festivals and events.
During the winter, the quiet is perfect for #Winetravelers who prefer one on one interactions with winemakers and tasting room staff.
History of Seneca Lake Winemaking
Like the rest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake got its start growing native grapes like Delaware and Catawba in the late 19th century. The first commercial winery on this lake was Seneca Lake Grape Wine Company, which opened in 1866.
In 1882, New York State opened an experimental agricultural station in Geneva at the north end of the lake for grape breeding and vineyard research, providing winemakers with data-backed agricultural advice. During Prohibition, the lake’s wineries suffered, with many of them closing or converting to table grape production.
In the early 1970s, young winemakers like Charles Fournier and Hermann Wiemer began planting Vinifera around the lake. The success of Fournier’s and Wiemer’s vineyard, plus the advice and aid of the agricultural station and the passing of the Farm Winery Act, led to the growth of the wine industry around the lake. Many of these early wineries that got their start in this period, like Glenora Wine Cellars, Wagner Vineyards, Hermann J. Wiemer, and Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, continue to be active today.
To Cruise or Not to Cruise the “Wine Trail”
Each of the four major wine-producing Finger Lakes each have a promotional entity that they can join. These organizations promote the individual lake, wineries, accommodation, dining and activity in the area. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail includes over 30 member wineries, and provides visitors to the region with a great start for learning more about where to go and what to do. Throughout the year, they also offer deals and host events that span the entire wine trail around the lake.
The trails are a great start to your visit, and if you’re a frequent visitor, the trail wide tasting events can be a fun way to explore new places. But, don’t limit yourself.
Of the 50 plus wineries on the lake, 20 or so are not members of the wine trail. There is a fee to join these “wine trail” organizations, and many wineries choose not be a member. Many of my personal favorite wineries are not part of these entities, so I also strongly suggest visiting places that do not belong.
Seneca Lake Grape Varieties
The Finger Lakes broadly have built their reputation on Riesling, and Seneca Lake in particular has the largest selection of styles and clones, from super sweet late harvest to bone dry. There’s even a winery, Boundary Breaks, that focuses almost exclusively on Riesling. Other classic grape varietals on the lake are Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Blaufrankisch (also known as Lemberger) and Chardonnay.
Love dry red wine? Check out our tasting itinerary for the west side of Seneca Lake that features red wine only.
If it’s your first time visiting, you’ll want to hit the highlights. We suggest checking out our guide to doing a long weekend on Seneca Lake. This includes all the must-do wineries, dining, and accommodation.
Want to try something a little different? Here’s some alternative ways to tour the lake:
- Cheese lovers can enjoy visiting four different dairies around the lake, including Muranda Cheese Company, Meredith Dairy, Sunset View Creamery, and Crosswinds Farm. Each makes unique cheeses and has different types of touring and tasting experiences. Bring your own bottle of wine with you to enjoy during the tasting. These are great for families as it brings children in on the tasting experience and they can see the goats and cows producing the milk.
- Nature and animal lovers have a variety of options for getting outdoors and exploring. The town of Watkins Glen, located at the south end of the lake, is named after the gorges and glens located near it. The pathways winding through the glen offer incredible views of waterfalls and gorges. At the north end, you can visit the Seneca White Deer Park, a unique nature preserve at the north end of the lake that has albino deer. You can take guided tours through the park to learn more about them.
- Shopping lovers can tour the Seneca Lake and enjoy the wonderful small and large shops around it. Geneva at the north end of the lake has a variety of antique and craft stores to visit tucked among its streets. You can also find wonderful little shops within wineries, like Three Brothers Wineries and Estate, Billsboro Winery, and Ryan William Vineyard. One of the more unique stops for shopping is Hector Handmade, a cute local only artisanal shop. End your visit with a stop at the Waterloo Outlet Mall, which featuring dozens of your favorite brands at discount prices.
For restaurants around the lake, check out our food guide to the Finger Lakes.
You can see a complete list of wineries to visit on Seneca Lake via our winery directory for the Finger Lakes.
Written By Kate Meyers Emery
Kate Meyers Emery is a Finger Lakes wine evangelist, sharing the love and knowledge of her region through the classes she teaches and in her writing. She is the author of VinifeROC, a personal chronicle of her adventures in exploring the wines of New York, with a particular focus on Rochester and the Finger Lakes. Follow her wine adventures on Instagram at @kmeyersemery.