Head upstate to New York’s Finger Lakes region for wine culture with a smattering of gay flair

SCENIC ROUTE | As one of more than 100 wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the scenic view of Wagner Vineyards only adds to its offerings of both wines and microbrews. (Photo by Andrew Collins)

ANDREW COLLINS | Contributing Travel Writer

The legalization of same-sex marriage in New York has given new appeal to some romantic vacation spots throughout the state. Of particular note is the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York, which abounds with gorgeous scenery and charming accommodations, as well as its renowned winemaking industry.

For its acclaimed riesling and increasingly well-regarded chardonnay, cabernet franc and pinot noir, the Finger Lakes region has developed into one of the top winemaking areas in the eastern U.S. More than 100 wineries thrive amid the 11 deep, narrow lakes that give the area its name.
Seneca Lake is at the center of wine country, but neighboring Cayuga and Keuka lakes also have plenty of prominent vineyards. One highlight is Red Newt Cellars, the purview of openly gay winemaker Brandon Seager and the home of a sensational restaurant. Just down the road, Atwater Estate turns out terrific cab franc and riesling and has also been a venue of several same-sex weddings. The impressive lake view is a worthy selling point.

Wagner Vineyards produces not only a bounty of great wines but also well-crafted microbrews. Finger Lakes Distilling earns kudos for its aromatic gin, bourbons and distinctive aperitifs. Miles Wine Cellars, Anthony Road, Hermann J. Wiemer and Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars (a riesling legend on Keuka Lake) are also worth a look.

Other great spots in these parts include the liberal town of Ithaca, home to Ithaca College and the main campus of Cornell University, as well as such cultural gems as the Hangar Theater, the Kitchen Theatre and the Cayuga Nature Center, with its many trails and animal enclosures. Spend some time in the small, rejuvenated city of Corning, home to the surprisingly excellent Corning Museum of Glass, which showcases a collection of glassworks dating back 35 centuries; the Rockwell Museum of Western Art features an outstanding collection of Western and Native American art. Shops, galleries and restaurants make up the Gaffer Historic District.

For dining, favorites along the Seneca Lake shoreline include the Stonecat Cafe, serving boldly seasoned, rustic American fare, and Suzanne. Occupying a rambling old farmhouse, it serves artfully plated dinners with the same genial pace and warm service you might encounter at a dinner party.

In Ithaca, students get their fix of cheap and authentic ethnic food at Saigon Kitchen and Sticky Rice Thai & Laotian, and coffeehouse culture thrives at Collegetown Bagels up on the hill near Cornell’s campus as well as downtown. Nearby, the urbane Just A Taste Wine & Tapas serves stellar Spanish-inspired small plates, the cozy Carriage House Cafe turns out delicious breakfasts and lunches, and iconic Moosewood Restaurant draws devotees of vegetarian cooking. Noteworthy in Corning is the cheap and cheerful Atlas Brick Oven Pizzeria and the elegant Three Birds Restaurant.

Gay nightlife is limited in these parts, but Ithaca bars are a healthy mixture of gay and straight, notable especially for Felicia’s Atomic Age and the Oasis. In nearby Elmira, you’ll find gays at Chill and in Binghamton at Merlins.

An excellent base for wine touring at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel offers 104 airy and modern rooms, many with lake views, as well as the excellent Blue Pointe Grille. In Ithaca, enjoy solicitous service from the prestigious Cornell School of Hotel Administration at the Statler Hotel, and a full resort experience at La Tourelle Resort and Spa, which also houses the excellent Simply Red Bistro and John Thomas Steakhouse.

Quirky inns proliferate in these parts, including a few romantic gay-owned options: the sumptuous, art-filled Juniper Hill B&B in Trumansburg; the John Morris Manor, overlooking the northern end of Cayuga Lake in Seneca Falls; the Black Walnut B&B, which dates to 1804; and the Greek Revival Hillcrest Manor in Corning. In downtown Ithaca, the gay-friendly, Queen Anne–style William Henry Miller Inn is another wonderfully stylish option.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.