Finger Lakes, the Napa Valley of New York

Finger Lakes, the Napa Valley of New York

The Finger Lakes stretch across rolling hills like narrow north–south slashes across western central New York. The lakes are deep cobalt, glossy-surfaced, and as narrow as rivers. Their names evoke the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy that dominated this area for more than two centuries. From east to west, the lakes are Otisco, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock, and Conesus.

Iroquois legend has it that the Finger Lakes were formed when the Great Spirit placed his hand in blessing on this favored land, leaving behind an imprint. Geologists offer another explanation: retreating Ice Age glaciers created the lakes about a million years ago. The intense grinding pressure of the ice masses gouged deep holes in the earth, creating the long, narrow lakes that lie side by side, as well as deep gorges with their rushing falls (the Finger Lakes has more than 1,000 waterfalls, many around Ithaca), and the wide fertile valleys that extend south for miles. The region is one of mesmerizing beauty, like a dream marriage of Scotland and Napa Valley.

Finger Lakes, the Napa Valley of New York Photo 2

Five of the six Iroquois nations inhabited the Finger Lakes Region . After the American Revolution, European-Americans received tracts of land here in lieu of pay for their war service. The region flourished as an agricultural heartland, bolstered by the construction of the Erie Canal, completed in 1825.

Much of the Finger Lakes region still shows its rural roots. Dairy farms, small villages, and stunning 19th-century architecture dot the landscape. Today the region thrives on its viticulture. Those deep glacial lakes create a microclimate that moderates temperatures along their shores, protecting grapevines from cold winters and hot summers. The region has more than 100 wineries, and touring vineyards is one of the top tourist activities.

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In contrast to the massive operations of decades past, several are boutique and family-owned wineries that have made great strides in challenging the accepted supremacy of West Coast winemakers. Organized wine trails, comprising the wineries along Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, and Canandaigua lakes, make it easy to visit Finger Lakes wineries and taste their wines.

The Finger Lakes embraces its wine culture, providing everyone with the chance to experience and learn about wine. Find out how to pair your favorite wine with dinner, learn about the winemaking and production process, and ask your burning questions about wine or grapes at the different winery tours and events held throughout the year.

The region specializes in aromatic white varieties like Riesling and Gewurztraminer. It is also finding exciting success with cool-climate reds like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The terroir of the Finger Lakes is special because of the microclimate created by the lakes – extreme cold weather in the winter is avoided and warm, breezy days during the summer help ripen the grapes.

Ithaca, home to Ivy League Cornell University, is the jewel in the region's crown. Named for the Greek island, it sits on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake. Ithaca has a "college town" vibe and a reputation for being hip and culturally liberal. The town offers theater, museums, and the regions liveliest nightlife and dining.

The town itself is small and surrounded by outdoor amenities. In the summer, the clear and clean lakes attract visitors for swimming, boating, kayaking, and many other water-sports. There are also a number of great hiking trails on land.

Don't leave without seeing some of the spectacular waterfalls. From small cascades to hundred-foot high drops - the Finger Lakes region of New York State is dotted with waterfalls across its landscape. Many of these waterfalls are located within state parks, others can simply be seen while driving around..

The area can be gorgeous even in winter - which is actually milder than most parts of upstate New York - but perhaps most stunning in autumn, when the brilliant blue lake waters are framed by an earthy palette of reds and yellows and sun-kissed, golden vineyards.

Stay in your own private vacation home and enjoy the space and freedom it offers.

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