It was just like a scene from the movies. We were at Grist Iron Brewing Company for our last dinner in the Finger Lakes Wine Country. Within minutes of arriving, Holden had wooed his way into nearly every patrons’ heart–blowing kisses and giving high-fives.The cover band started playing Melissa Ethridge’s “I’m The Only One” and without even thinking, I popped Holden on my hip and started swaying to one of my favorite karaoke songs. I danced and Holden laughed as playful pups bounded between the feet of fellow revelers. Before I knew it, we were joined by a stranger. She looked to be the same age as my grandmother with visible laugh lines that told of a life filled with joy and happiness. She bounced up to Holden, grabbed one of his chubby toddler hands, and began to dance with us.
It was the perfect ending to our time in the Finger Lakes and a true reflection of the warmth that we encountered during our stay. From enjoying homemade wine-aritas at the home of Steven Fulkerson (General Manager at Fulkerson Winery) to arriving at the Gathering Hill Farm vacation rental to a welcome basket stuffed with local delicacies, we truly felt welcomed at every stop.
Having only experienced NYC and Tarrytown in previous visits to New York state, we didn’t really know what to expect in the Finger Lakes. Our ignorance was soon replaced with introductions to quaint towns, authentic Americana, and an abundance of wine. And speaking of wine, the Finger Lakes has a lot of it. In fact, the area is home to three distinct wine trails and more than 100 wineries.
One might think that the over saturation of wineries leads to fierce industry competition but Fulkerson Winery GM, Steven Fulkerson, disagrees. As we sat on his front porch and sipped on his innovative libation (a mixture of his Sparklin’ Diamond white wine, tequila, and cherry juice), he spoke of how he thinks of the surrounding wineries as neighbors, not competitors. They’re more likely to lend each other cups of sugar than to keep a baseball that’s made it over the fence.
That feeling of community translates throughout the entire region.It seemed as if everyone we met was happily intertwined. If locals aren’t getting down to a cover band at a nearby brewery, you might find them catching up at the town’s diner or sourcing ingredients for supper at the farmers’ market. The village of Watkins Glen was undeniably Americana. Not the kitschy Americana that we’re often inundated with on our domestic travels. This was the real deal–where bakeries sell homemade pies and diner patrons refer to their waitress by name. And while there’s a lingering “small town feel” to the Finger Lakes, the wide array of available activities rivals that of the bigger surrounding cities.
Watkins Glen State Park might be walking distance from the center of town but once you’re inside, you could have been anywhere. The lush gorge with overflowing waterfalls (19 in all) had us feeling like we were back at Krka National park in Croatia or trekking through Middle Earth. We made the decision to go super early in the morning and we were so glad we did. Minus a hiker or two, we had the park to ourselves. Holden was particularly enamored with a giant stick that was gifted to him by Carol’s son, Liam. He thought he was the coolest kid as he dragged it behind us on our walk. Our trip to Watkins Glen State Park was hands down one of my favorite experiences on our trip and I can’t wait to go back.
But enough about wine and hikes. Let’s talk about beer. Not to be outdone by “tannins” and “legs”, craft breweries in the area have been hard at work bringing beer enthusiasts some of the best booze in the biz. Arguably the less pretentious libation of choice, the beer we sampled in the Finger Lakes was straight forward and delicious.
Our favorites came from Grist Iron Brewing and Wagner Valley Brewing Company at Wagner Vineyards (that’s right, Wagner does both wine and beer). If you visit the former, be sure to grab a growler (or seven) of the Headless Hessian Pumpkin Ale. Pour it into a cold glass with a cinnamon-lined rim and enjoy. You’re welcome. If you stop into Wagner Valley Brewing, do yourself a favor and order the Hop Tropic IPA. It tastes like Hawaii in a glass.
Our trip to the Finger Lakes wasn’t all fun and booze. There was work to be done as well. The stars aligned with our time in the area and we happened to be there as the finishing touches were made on a big decision regarding TBEX. We partnered with the Finger Lakes Wine Country to produce this video to announce that the Finger Lakes will be the host destination of TBEX North America Conference 2018! We’re thrilled that more travelers will be able to experience the beauty and wonder of the Finger Lakes for themselves.
We’re not done raving about the Finger Lakes. Stay tuned for more in depth information on outdoor adventures, our incredible stay at Gathering Hill Farms, and our visit to the Corning Museum of Glass. And Nancy Spaulding, if you’re reading this, the next time we’re in the Finger Lakes you owe us another dance.