It’s hard to beat the serenity and slow-paced relaxation that can be found in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I started visiting because I have so many friends in the region, but it’s easy to get addicted to the crystal-clear blue lakes, giant gorges, sprawling vineyards, long mountain ranges and the laid-back lifestyle that so many inhabitants enjoy.

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The Finger Lakes area is the largest wine producing region in New York. There are over 100 wineries and vineyards located around the lakes. Because of the lakes’ great depth, the water acts as a giant heat capacitor that retains residual summer warmth in the winter as well as winter’s cold in the spring. The combination of unique thermal properties, as well as the blend of shale deposits left over from prehistoric glaciers, makes this area an ideal place to grow wine.

Two weekends ago, I went up with my mom for a Mother’s Day wine tour, and the following weekend, I went again with Rachel to celebrate her birthday. On both trips, we visited a handful of wineries and hiked around the area’s gorges.

Mom and I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in Bristol (the 1795 Acorn Inn, would recommend) and spent most of the trip touring wineries. Some of our favorites were Heron Hill Winery in Hammondsport, Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard in Dundee, and the Inspire Moore Winery in Naples. Though probably our favorite part of the trip was visiting Two Goats Brewing, a microbrewery with a built-in bar where we socialized for hours. Two Goats is awesome, with a view off the back deck that overlooks Senaca Lake – my new favorite bar outside of the burgh. The locals were excited to meet a Pittsburgher, and we left with a bunch of new friends!

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The next weekend, after helping Rachel to throw a big birthday party at her apartment in Rochester, we borrowed her sister’s lakeside cottage and repeated the previous week’s adventures.  The cabin is on Seneca lake, the largest of the finger lakes, and despite being nearly 80ºF all weekend, seemed nearly void of boat traffic and tourists. I swear the Finger Lakes are the East Coast’s best kept secret.

Getting my Bloody Mary on.

Getting my Bloody Mary on.

Rachel made it a point for us to stop at Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett to sample some locally distilled spirits. Highly recommended, they have some great pot still whiskeys and bourbons, but also some complex vodkas and clean-finishing gin. I bought some bottles for my own enjoyment, and meanwhile was poured a taster of the house Bloody Mary – complete with Longhorn mix and Bacon Salt on the rim. It’s the damn future.

We also took a hike back to Watkins Glen State Park to see the waterfalls and gorges, and even did a little GeoCaching. Rachel had never GeoCached before, so we found three caches and logged them together.

We got dinner at the Stonecat Cafe, a local restaurant that features organic and locally-grown food. If you stop by, definitely get the fried catfish – seems to be the house’s signature dish. The cafe also overlooks Senaca lake and is a peaceful place to spend some time. Their drink list is longer than their menu, but unfortunately by the time I got to dinner, the wineries had caught up with me and I stuck with water.

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The Finger Lakes region is truly one of the most beautiful and serene places I’ve ever been. It’s a perfect destination for a getaway to clear your mind and uncork some wine. Pretty much everyone we bumped in to was pleasant, smiling, and happy to meet a Pittsburgher.

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