Add Sun, Fun People and Sips of Red and White, Cayuga Lake Wine Trail Tour Sparkles

Apr 25, 2014

Wine has never been my thing.

My first memories of the processed grape that did not come with the name Welch's on the label was watching my father drink a glass of a dark purple wine called Tawny Port when I was a kid. It was from the vineyards of Ernest and Julio Gallo, as I recall. The bottle was huge. It had a twist cap, not a cork.

It smelled sweet. When I got old enough, the sip my dad allowed me tasted sweet, with a slight burn as a kicker.

The years went by, and I was a total beer guy.

I'd dabble in wine every now and again, a glass here and there at parties and gatherings and meals when it seemed like I should. My brother-in-law sent us four bottles as a Christmas present this year. We drank one bottle. I liked it.

So, when my dear wife Karen signed us up for a limo bus excursion with a group of 23 for a day of wine tasting on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, I was happy at the news.

Goose Watch next to Cayuga Lake
Goose Watch next to Cayuga Lake
Credit Mark Bialczak

Perhaps I would finally be able to answer without hesitation when asked if I preferred red or white.

If you've never been to a tour, or even a single sampling, like me, here's how it works.

We got on the bus booked from S&S Limousines at 9 a.m., from a spot we chose, a parking lot at Destiny USA. The bus was scheduled to get us back by 6 p.m.

Goose Watch sampling
Goose Watch sampling
Credit Mark Bialczak

After the short drive west, stops would be made at five of the 17 wineries/vineyards sprinkled around Cayuga Lake. Our itinerary included Swedish Lake, Goose Watch, Hosmer, Cayuga Ridge Estate and Knapp. 

At each establishment, you pay for the privilege of sampling swallows of their wine labels. Four of the five charged five bucks. Cayuga Ridge Estate cost just three bucks.

Upon arrival, your group is ushered into a sampling room.

A wine pourer stands ready to do what that name implies, and fill you in on the labels as you taste.

You're handed a check list. You're allowed to check off a half dozen. At Cayuga Ridge Estate, they did it a bit differently. You're handed a list, but the server walks the bottles, explaining the labels and pouring if you nod yes. Then they take you downstairs, where a veteran wine maker explains about tank-made and oak-barreled variations of the label Chancellor. You can taste both of those reds.

No two servers were alike. Some explained more about the vintage and brand as they poured than others. I listened and tried to learn, but I was a bit out of my element.

Knapp tasting room
Knapp tasting room
Credit Mark Bialczak

I checked off my dry wines than sweet wines.

I tried to treat my tastebuds with both whites and reds.

At Knapp, they offered spirits on the back of the checklist, so I tried both grappa and its sweeter cousin, LimOncello.

For each taste, you're poured a swallow or two.

I sniffed. I swirled. I sipped.

I liked.

My favorite at each stop was:

2011 Blue Waters Chardonnay Riesling from Swedish Hill, a dry white; 2012 Melody from Goose Watch, a semi-dry white; 2012 Dry Rose from Hosmer; Cayuga Cuvee Red Cabernet Franc, a dry red from Cayuga Ridge; and Riesling '12 from Knapp, a dry white.

The final tally is two dry whites, one semi-dry white, one dry red, one dry rose.

Dry is my thing, apparently. Good to know.

Yet that discovery was hardly the highlight of this day of wine tasting.

The beauty of the vineyards and wineries was striking enough to provide a good time for anybody who prefers not to sample the vino.

I dug the donkey named Doobie and Swedish Hill.

Doobie the donkey at Swedish Hill
Doobie the donkey at Swedish Hill
Credit Mark Bialczak

I climbed the hill to closely admire the goose in the middle of the pond at Goose Watch, and then turned to savor the picturesque downhill view of the vineyards and neighboring Cayuga Lake.

I lounged in Adirondack chairs as our group picnicked with food and beverage we hauled iut oif the bus on the grassy lawn of Knapp.

I admired the tanks and barrels, and then sat on the covered patio to watch a game of adult-sized Jenga at Cayuga Ridge.

I petted two cats on a picnic table next to a deep pond at Knapp, one of them the black guy used as a model for their label Superstition. (Soon after, I broke the first bottle of that red we'd purchased to bring home, by the way, but refusing to be spooked, we returned to the store and bought another.)

Oak barrels at Cayuga Ridge Estates
Oak barrels at Cayuga Ridge Estates
Credit Mark Bialczak

The brochure for the Cayuga Lake circuit says it's "America's First Wine Trail." It was my first, too. And on this sunny day in the Finger Lakes region, I had a fine time.

Have you ever taken a wine sampling tour? Do you have a favorite winery or vineyard? Do you prefer red or white?