Cayuga Lake is one of most popular Finger Lakes for exploring wineries, waterfalls and for experiencing a pioneer in promoting vegetarian cuisine, Moosewood Restaurant, whose eponymous cookbooks have become a staple of our culinary canon.
The charming college town of Ithaca sits at Cayuga Lake’s southern boundary. My husband and I made that our base last fall for exploring the picturesque Cayuga Lake Wine Trail (CWLT), which bills itself as “America’s first and longest running wine trail.” To be clear, the CLWT isn’t claiming to have the oldest American wineries or vines–just that it’s the oldest set of wineries to promote themselves as a group along a trail that runs the length of the 39-mile Cayuga Lake, primarily along its western side.
We were stoked to be making the five-hour drive in pouring rain. Mostly because this hamlet’s tagline is “Ithaca is Gorges.” Indeed the area boasts numerous gorges and waterfalls we planned to hike between winery visits. We knew they would be teeming with fresh rainfall, particularly the impressive Taughannock Falls north of town. First we checked into the majestic Hotel Ithaca in the heart of downtown. We were delighted by the hotel’s interior. Extensive renovations have produced a clean, sleek modern look that simultaneously manages to be warm and inviting. We were famished so we scooted across the street to Coltivare, a restaurant run by the hospitality program at Tompkins Cortland Community College. Locavores will love that Coltivare sources much of its menu from local farms and wineries, although some wine selections are from nearby Seneca Lake.
Cayuga Lake’s Wine Trail keeps expanding and now numbers 16 wineries. We only had time to sample selections from three of them, but we had memorable sips from all of them. The weather was chilly and rainy when we visited Hosmer Winery, Thirsty Owl Wine Company and Americana Vineyards. Hosmer was our first stop and it’s one of the region’s best-known wineries. The staff had set up tables outside and brought us a variety of selections. We enjoyed their 2018 Pinot Gris, which had a fruity nose with pleasant acidity to give it a crisp finish. We were also impressed with their 2020 Lemberger, which tasted of cherries, raspberries and sweet lilac on the palate. Lemberger is the German name for the Austrian red varietal, Blaufrankisch.
Across the road at Thirsty Owl we enjoyed panoramic views of Lake Cayuga. We tasted their 2019 Dry Riesling which is celebrated for its gold medal from the 2021 Atlantic Seaboard International competition. The Finger Lakes are famous for their Rieslings so we snagged a couple of bottles, along with a couple of their 2020 Gewürztraminers that we ended up raving about at home. Finally, we traveled some back roads to find Americana Winery near Interlaken, famed for its funky atmosphere in an old barn. Owner, Joseph Gober Jr. introduced us to his Baco Noir, a full-bodied red. Americana’s barn has been lovingly restored and it appears to be the ideal venue for a Hallmark movie wedding.
On the way back to the Hotel Ithaca we stopped at Taughannock Falls and Ithaca Falls. Both were overflowing. If it had been sunnier perhaps the foliage would have looked more impressive. After all the Finger Lakes is often voted the best destination for tasting wines among fall foliage.
Long before we left home, we made dinner reservations for our last night in Ithaca at the venerable Moosewood Restaurant. Started in 1973, it’s a pillar of the American vegetarian movement. It’s hard to quantify what Moosewood has done to move meatless meals away from tofu entrees with different sauces to the endlessly interesting offerings we enjoy today. We started with their white bean, rosemary and roasted garlic spread on pita before indulging in the mushroom marsala and butternut carbonara topped off with a heavenly fudge brownie. They bake everything on premise and use no genetically modified ingredients. And yes, Moosewood features local wines on its amazing meatless menu.
We don’t usually remember having a great time on a soggy trip. But among Ithaca’s surging waterfalls, cozy restaurants such as Coltivare and Moosewood, and all that water feeding the vines, we’ll take precipitation along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail any day.