Wining, Dining and Waterfalls: Escape to The Finger Lakes This FallAug 29, 2019 10:16AM ● By Vanessa Orr
Upper, Middle and Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park
Every so often, you get to visit a place that is so stunning that it is hard to describe—a situation that every writer dreads. But sometimes Mother Nature leaves you almost speechless, which was the case when I visited the Glen Iris Inn, located in Letchworth State Park in the Finger Lakes region of central New York.
While many restaurants offer patrons a lovely view, the inn is situated to overlook Middle Falls—one of three remarkable waterfalls in what is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Trails run alongside the Genesee River, which runs through the gorge, and offer spectacular views of the 70-foot high Upper Falls, 107-foot high Middle Falls, and the much smaller but still beautiful Lower Falls.
The park, which was named for industrialist William Letchworth, encompasses 14,250 acres and includes 66 miles of walking trails. More than 120 species of birds make this area their home, which was originally owned by Letchworth before he endowed it to the state. The inn is his former country estate, which has now been turned into a superb restaurant—a must-stop for anyone visiting the area from April-October. Named the #1 state park in the nation by USA Today readers, the park attracts more than 1 million visitors a year.
Letchworth is also known for another of its famous residents, Mary Jemison. In 1755, she was captured at the age of 12 by the Seneca Nation, and later chose to live out her life with the tribe, making her home in this area of the Finger Lakes until she passed away in her 80s. Known as the White Woman of the Genesee, there is a statue of her in the park that is located next to a Seneca Council House.
Speaking of parks, Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott, NY, also offers amazing views, including 150-foot tall bluffs that tower over Lake Ontario. Formed 6,000 to 10,000 years ago by glaciers, this 597-acre park remains fairly undeveloped, but there are walking trails available for the more intrepid explorer.
Some of the Worlds’ Best Wines
Of course, what sets the Finger Lakes area apart is its food and beverage scene, especially the 100-plus wineries, breweries and distilleries that call the area home. While originally known for making some of the world’s best Rieslings, there is something for every palate in this area, where families have been perfecting their products for generations.
At Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY, 32 varieties of French American hybrid grapes are grown on 98 acres, which results in Sweet Walter Red, their best-selling wine, as well as a wealth of other offerings, including wines named for roosters and goats. This eclectic winery, which overlooks Keuka Lake, offers excellent food as well as stunning views to accompany its libations.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, also in Hammondsport, has been the state’s most award-winning winery since 1962, and was named one of 100 top wineries in the world by Wine and Spirits in 2016. Named for the original owner of the property, a professor of plant sciences who had a Ph.D. in viticulture from the Ukraine, Dr. Frank spoke nine languages but no English when he emigrated to the U.S. Less than 10 years later, he had his own winery, and gladly shared his knowledge with anyone who wanted it, including his own family. Today, the fourth-generation winery includes his granddaughter, Meaghen Frank, who loves to share her grandfather’s story.
In Naples, NY, the Arbor Hill Grapery & Winery is not only creating new varietals, but also preserving older varietals so that they don’t get lost to history. John Brahm III started this winery in 1987, and it is now run by the family’s fourth generation. While its best-selling Moscato brings in the crowds, I’m personally a big fan of its amazing Noire and their grape pie—if you get a chance, grab one when it comes right out of the oven—it’s pretty spectacular.
While you’re in the area, I also recommend getting lunch or taking a class at New York Kitchen, a nonprofit, communal space where you can dine on farm-fresh products, attend wine and beer tastings, or even create your own masterpieces during hands-on cooking classes.
Beer, Ciders and More
Apple Country Spirits in Williamson, NY, is a farm distillery that produces spirits from the fruit grown on its fifth-generation family farm. Tree Vodka, its flagship spirit, is made from fresh apples from the property, and they also sell raspberry and peach vodkas, and Apple Jack and Rootstock cider. According to bartender and guide Collin McConville, “You can almost smell the fuzz,” in their peach vodka.
Embark Craft Ciderworks at Lagoner Farms was started in 2015. A fifth-generation family farm that has been caring for the same land since 1909, they started the ciderworks as a way to sell the 75,000 gallons of cider they make each year from their 75 varieties of cider-specific apples.
For beer fans, a visit to Market Street Brewing Company & Restaurant in Corning, NY, is a must. The first micro-brewery in the area, it is run by the McClellan family, who have served their own handcrafted brews in Corning’s Historic District for the past 21 years.
While you’re in the area, you should also plan to visit the Corning Museum of Glass, which contains the world’s most comprehensive collection of glass. And if you’re so inspired, you can create your own glass product at Hands-on Glass, where owner Rodi Rovner hosts glassblowing activities like making your own paperweight or glass pumpkin to take home. An on-site store also features work for sale by local artists.
To learn more about all you can do in the Finger Lakes area, visit the
Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council at www.FingerLakesTravelNY.com or call 585-484-8844.