Settling into a comfortable Adirondack chair, sipping an award winning local wine and gazing out over a glistening lake, rolling mountain peaks and pine forests, I think, “Oh yes, this place definitely earns a spot on my Affordable Paradise List”. The fact that Canandaigua, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, is at the crossroads of the Finger Lakes Wine Trail, Finger Lakes Beer Trail, Finger Lakes Cider Trail AND the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail, means visitors are in for a “spirited” good time.
The Finger Lakes Region of up-state New York has always been known for its beauty and abundance of acclaimed vineyards. While most travelers are drawn to the southern region to visit Watkins Glen, Hammondsport and Corning; I’d like to draw your attention further north to the delightful city and lake known as Canandaigua.
Canandaigua (say.. cannon-day-gwa) is an Iroquois Indian word meaning “The Chosen Spot”; as this was the gathering place for important tribal ceremonies. I can clearly see why this location was so exalted, it is scenically beautiful with a clear mountain lake and abundant fertile hillsides and valleys. Come along on our exploration of the Canandaigua Lake area to discover acclaimed vineyards, craft breweries and fine cuisine.
Wine And Beer Trail Tour
Without a doubt, the highlight of our visit was an all-day tour of vineyards and breweries in the care of a personable and knowledgeable guide from Crush on Canandaigua. Crush is a local tour company specializing in custom tailored full or half-day craft spirit tours. They organized an itinerary that was designed specifically for our taste profile and preferences. With options to visit local vineyards, breweries, distilleries and cideries, we were glad to have a local expert to lead the way and do all the driving.
We selected a wine and brew tour with lunch at the notable New York Wine & Culinary Center overlooking Lake Canandaigua. Our guide, Gary, kept us continually entertained as we drove north to visit the very impressive Casa Larga Vineyards & Winery. Built by the Colaruotolo family to resemble a modern Tuscan estate set on the highest point in Rochester, it was love at first sight for us. Their goal is to treat everyone as family and strive for gold medal quality in their wines. We sampled a number of exceptional wines including a Vidal Ice Wine that had won the “Best Dessert Wine in the World” in an International competition in London. I’m putting their Purple Foot Festival on my calendar – what a great fall foliage trip that would make!
Our favorite brewery was the irreverent Naked Dove Brewing Company owned by Dave, Don & Ken. This stop was immensely entertaining and these guys are clearly masterful brew-masters. Outside of purchasing draft beer at the brewery, their microbrews are available at 250 bars and restaurants within a 35 mile radius of the brewery. Typically their delivered kegs last a mere 1 to 2 weeks before they are tapped out, so Naked Dove brews are clearly very popular with locals. Some of their tongue-in-cheek brews include Roll In The Hay Farmhouse Ale, McBane’s Tall Blonde & Naked, Berry Naked Black Raspberry Ale and their award winning 45 Fathoms Porter. The whole town waits for their special Scottish Ale brewed only from January through March.
Other stops on our tasting tour included Three Huskies Brewing located in Dobber’s Sports Bar & Grill, Hazlitt “Red Cat” Winery, and Heron Hill where you can enjoy a great view, tasty wines, wood-fired pizza with live music on weekend evenings. Crush on Canandaigua did a wonderful job keeping us entertained and safe while we sipped and nibbled the day away. If you want to tackle the area on your own, you might want to purchase a Wine Travel Card that gives you discounts on wineries, breweries, restaurants and hotels.
Where To Dine
A meal at the New York Wine & Culinary Center located in the center of town just across from Lake Canandaigua is a must! This non-profit organization was developed in partnership with Wegmans to showcase the finest of New York’s agriculture, wine and food products. New York is a top 3 U.S. producer of milk and diary products, apples, grapes, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkins, maple syrup, cattle, pigs and sheep. The center offers fine dining in their restaurants and upstairs bistro, as well as scheduled tasting experiences and a wide range of culinary classes. There is a foodie experience here for everyone including Sommelier certification, Meet The Farmer workshops, Chef’s Table seminars, Beverage and Culinary Demos and even Kid’s Culinary Camps. We dined in the Bistro looking out at the lake and sampled two wood-fired white pizzas made with imaginative fresh local ingredients.
Other noteworthy places to dine are Bristol Harbour perched mountain top with expansive views of Lake Canandaigua and The Inn on the Lake which sits lakeside in town. As you might suspect, Canandaigua has quite a few great dining spots along the 16 mile shore.
Where To Stay
This area has many small hotels and seasonal lake cottage rentals available, but we chose to stay in a quaint local inn. We had a truly memorable stay at the 1837 Cobblestone Cottage Bed and Breakfast. Kathy and Joe have done a magnificent job restoring the historic property which is located conveniently on Lake Road in Canandaigua. The rooms were bright and comfortable with luxury linens, and Kathy prepared over-the-top breakfasts. Here’s my full review of the property.
All-in-all, our visit to Canandaigua was a getaway we will long remember. With all the activities available; wine, beer, cider and cheese trails to follow, hiking, biking, golf, shopping and dining along the lake, this area earns high marks as an affordable gem. Being just a 5 hour drive from NYC or 6 hours from Boston, or just over 1 hour flight away, it makes a wonderful destination for that upcoming fall foliage getaway!