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“America’s Coolest Small Town” is quite a title to claim for oneself, but luckily Hammondsport didn’t have to do it — the readers of Budget Travel magazine did it for them. Hammondsport was the first stop on my Upstate New York road trip, and I already felt like I’d traveled into the brushstrokes of a Normal Rockwell painting.

I’d arrived in the dark of night the prior evening, which meant I was wide-eyed for my stroll through town to the Keuka Artisan Bakery.

Hammondsport

Keuka Artisan Bakery

Keuka Artisan Bakery

My older sister Margaret had driven down from Rochester, and switched between catching up — we hadn’t seen each other since Father’s Day in Philadelphia a year ago! — and pointing out all the small town cuteness we could find. From the handwritten sign for yoga upstairs from the bakery to several of the seven hundred and thirty one citizens of the town swinging in their rocking chairs, we were smitten.

Hammondsport

Hammondsport

Hammondsport’s greatest gift is its location on the Southern tip of Keuka Lake, one of New York’s five Finger Lakes. A lake we were about to get up close and personal with.

Hammondsport

Kayaking Keuka Lake

Kayaking Keuka Lake

From the kayak launch, I could spot the room I’d spent the night in at the . Talk about views. And talk about value. Rooms at the inn start at $100, while kayaks from a local shop in town run $30 for the day and $75 for the week, with free drop-off within five miles of Hammondsport.

We went for just a brief excursion and spotted white herons, basking turtles, and catfish the size of my cocker spaniel. My sister laughed at me as I juggled , and iPhone, and I laughed at me as I managed to get lost on a one-lane lake. It was the perfect way to kick off our trip.

Kayaking Keuka Lake

Kayaking Keuka Lake

Kayaking Keuka Lake

Post paddle, we switched gears to one of the regions other highlights: wine tasting. While I’ve written about wine tours and trails everywhere from Santorini to Big Island, before this trip I never would have called myself a wine lover.

On the , I realized that that’s because I was drinking the wrong wine.

Dr. Frank Wine Cellars

Dr. Frank Wine Cellars

Dr. Frank Wine Cellars

The Finger Lakes, it turns out, specializes in my favorite variety of wines — sweet whites! (Cue eyeroll and groan from the serious dry red drinkers. I hear you.) With award winning Rieslings running the show, I found myself seriously falling for specific wines for the first time ever; leaving the region with a case full and hunting them down in specialty wine shops ever since. I shall henceforth remember this as the summer I learned which wines I actually love. It was transformative.

We were to visit three out of the eight wineries on Keuka Lake, starting with . This was the most traditional winery we’d visit, and boasted the most beautiful views. I brought home a bottle of their award-winning semi-dry Rieslings. While I could have lingered on their deck all day, there was more wine to taste. A tough job, but we were up for it.

Keuka Wine Trail

Keuka Wine Trail

Our car ride was peppered with requests to pull over for photos. Not bad looking, eh? Well, those Upstate New York-loving readers of Budget Travel agree yet again, calling it “the world’s most beautiful wine region.” Take that, Napa!

Our next stop was , which I quickly christened the Ben & Jerry’s of the wine world. Founded on the philosophy of “wine with laughter,” Bully’s seemed like a great spot to pause for lunch. Despite the unexpected late spring chill we happily sat on the deck and soaked up the atmosphere of the eclectic vineyard while we ate.

Bully Hill Vineyards

Bully Hill Vineyards

Lunch at Bully Hill Vineyards

At Bully Hill I discovered my new favorite wine in the whole wide world — , the perfect summer white with hints of all my favorite fruits. And one of the most beautiful labels I’ve ever seen to boot! I quickly went through my stash and am now accepting cases of it in lieu of payment. (Just kidding, advertisers, just kidding. Unless you’ll spring for international shipping.)

Bully Hill Vineyards

Keuka Wine Trail

Our third and final stop for the day was . While I didn’t end up taking any of their wine with me, I drooled over the graphic design of their bottles and brochures, and we were unanimous in agreeing that it was the most gorgeous tasting room of the bunch.

Heron Hill Vineyards

Heron Hill Vineyards

Heron Hill Vineyards

Heron Hill Vineyards

Keuka Lake charmed me senseless — by the time we were driving away I was texting my New York girlfriends trying to drum up excitement for a wine tasting weekend, and calling my parents asking how we’d never been to the Finger Lakes for a family vacation before.

The rest of this trip had a tough act to follow. And that’s not just the Ravat talking.

Keuka Wine Trail

Keuka Wine Trail

Have you ever been to the Finger Lakes? What’s your favorite wine-cation getaway?

Many thanks to Steuben County Conference & Visitor’s Bureau for hosting me in Keuka Lake. As always, you get my honest thoughts and opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. And big hugs and kisses to my big sis Margaret for being my travel buddy!

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69 Comments...
  • Janice Stringer
    September 3 2015

    Hi Meihoukai,
    This area looks like it has a unique personality. Really interesting. I never thought of New York as being a wine region!
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Mary
      September 4 2015

      The Finger Lakes Wine Region was chosen this year as the best wine region in the world. It always shows up in the top 5 or 10. Not only does it have and produce award winning wines, visitors love the added beauty of the lakes. Many of my clients end up purchasing vacation/second homes after visiting the area. Vacation home rentals are a nice revenue generator. How do I know this? My specialty is waterfront/vacation homes in the Finger Lakes and have sold properties on 8 of the Finger Lakes.

      • Meihoukai
        September 10 2015

        Janice, you’d love it 🙂 A must for your next trip to the USA!

    • Brynn Day
      January 12 2016

      We actually are considered the Napa Valley of the East coast, although our area is much cheaper and not a widely known.

  • Victoria | Girl Tries Life
    September 3 2015

    You forgot your wine tasting in Cambodia! Granted, if I remember that post correctly, it wasn’t memorable wine!

    Haven’t been to the Finger Lakes (added to my list now), but I have done wine tasting in Germany, complete with plenty of sweet Rieslings. Off to do some tasting in Niagara region shortly, and have also tasted wine in South Africa.

    South Africa probably had the most gorgeous winery I’d been to at Stellenbosch. Hard to say… I was a little tipsy.
    Victoria | Girl Tries Life recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 9 2015

      Ha, no, Cambodia still has a bit of a ways to go in terms of wine 🙂 Hm, you’ve just given Germany a bit of a bump on my bucket list!

      • Harry Alderman
        January 12 2016

        I grew up in Hammondsport and it wasn’t until last year that I got to tour Pleasant Valley Winery for my wife’s 50th class reunion. Sorry I waited so long, It has the distinction of having Winery License #1 from after prohibition times. But then everything about the place is grand. All their vats were made to specifications on the spot where they were to set, made by local barrel makers, even the stainless steel vats were fabricated on site. They also have a piece of from on site built in Europe in 1656 for a king whom I don’t remember his name. Even though now there are so many “NEW” wineries such a shame you missed Pleasant Valley. There is many other things of interest around the area too. Glenn Curtiss did most of his flying off the lake and so many other inventions. All I can say is there is much more than wine and grapes to the area all equally important to Hammondsport.

        • Meihoukai
          January 13 2016

          Thanks for the tip, Harry! I’ll file it away for next time. I loved the three wineries we went to so much, I definitely would love to check out a few others!

  • Sarah
    September 3 2015

    I’m so glad you wrote about the Finger Lakes region! Keuka Lake is a fabulous place to visit and doesn’t get as many visitors as the larger lakes ( Seneca and Cayuga). I had one potential edit for your post – there are 11 Finger Lakes.

    Kids here learn all of the names – there are 2- “O’s” (Oswasco and Otisco), 2 – “S’s” ( Seneca and Skaneateles), 2 – “H’s” (Honeoye and Hemlock), 4- “C’s” ( Cayuga, Conesus, Canadice, Canandaigua), and 1 -“K” ( Keuka). All created by northward flowing rivers ( weird, right?) that ended up being widened/deepended by glaciers.

    I’m starting a blog about traveling in the Finger Lakes – wine tours, cheese tours, beer tour, and cider tours galore! Thanks again for visiting the region- it means a lot to the small business owners here!

    • Meihoukai
      September 9 2015

      Thanks for the correction, Sarah — I think the map I was going off only had the five main ones. Whoops! I’ll be back to explore and learn more!

      • Geoff
        January 14 2016

        While there are many lakes in the Finger Lakes region, the map you had, I’m sure, highlighted the Five main(biggest) lakes, hence the name, the Finger Lakes. Because on a map they look like five fingers. So technically, you were correct. Thank you for this article. I grew up on Keuka Lake at my Grandparents cottage. I have also worked at Heron Hill a couple of restaurants on the lake. When people ask me why I don’t move somewhere warmer, I tell them I can’t, I’d miss the lake too much. I would highly recommend that you come back to the area at the peak of the fall foliage. Then you will know exactly why I don’t want to live elsewhere.

        • Meihoukai
          January 14 2016

          I bet, Geoff! I grew up in Albany and even in an urban/suburban area like that, fall is the most stunning season. Love me some leaf peeping!

  • Kacy
    September 3 2015

    This trip looks like it was amazing! I haven’t been to the Finger Lakes yet, but it’s high on my list since it’s sorta kinda driving distance from DC. Visiting wine countries is one of my favorite things to do when traveling, and I love them all. I would say the Douro Valley in Portugal and Mendoza would be my current favorites, the scenery was just out of this world.
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    • Meihoukai
      September 9 2015

      Haven’t been to either but you know what I’ll say… adding them to the list 😉

    • Barbara
      January 12 2016

      Watkins Glen is less than 5 hours driving time from the DC area. In Watkins Glen you can hike the infamous Watkins Glen gorge, walk to the lake and wine and be tasting. All this and more is within walking distance of Echoes of the Glen B&B. We hope to you visit sometime!

      • Lori
        January 13 2016

        Infamous? Well known for some bad quality or deed?

      • Meihoukai
        January 13 2016

        I wrote a post about Watkins Glen, Barbara. I loved it and second our recommendation!

  • Jill
    September 3 2015

    Glad you enjoyed your time on Keuka Lake. I live in Upstate NY and that area is one of my favorite areas of the Finger Lakes to explore.

    • Meihoukai
      September 9 2015

      I adored it! So quiet and quaint. I’d definitely go back!

  • becky hutner
    September 3 2015

    Such a great post on a region I’ve never considered! Confession: I’ve never found the right wine. Unless you count Prosecco. But that doesn’t mean I don’t go wine tasting because views, cheese & getting to feel smug while my friends get really drunk!
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 9 2015

      That was always my view as well, but finding a wine category that I was enthusiastic about has definitely been a game changer. Rieslings for the win!

  • Meihoukai
    September 3 2015

    Looks like a beautiful little town!

  • Rebecca W.
    September 3 2015

    This is adorable! If it wasn’t so stinkin’ cold in NY for this Texan I might just relocate! 🙂
    Rebecca W. recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Oh I hear ya… the winters are brutal! Hence why I only New York in the summers now… and yes, I think that is a verb 🙂

  • Britt
    September 3 2015

    Growing up in a small town in country Australia I have a huge soft spot for little towns like this one!

    I love wine tastings although I’m not so sure I should be trusted around them. ha.

    I’m in the seriously dry red category 😛
    Britt recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Good… we’ll never fight over the last glass! 😀

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    September 3 2015

    That town is adorable!! I remember when my sommelier friend sat me down one day and was like, “this is ridiculous. You can’t NOT like wine. We’ll find it.” After a veryyyy boozy weekend, we determined at the end it was dry Rieslings that I could get down with. Let’s start a club.
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Riesling Lovers of Roatan — start it girl. I’ll join whenever I’m on island.

  • Camels & Chocolate
    September 3 2015

    HALLELUJAH, you’re finally to the US.
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  • Marni
    September 4 2015

    What I learned from this post is that I need to do another wine-tasting. It’s such fun! It’s exciting when you fall in love with a type of wine.

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Exciting indeed! This was seriously my first time ever experiencing it, ha.

  • Leah
    September 4 2015

    You called me out on my eyeroll before I could even do it! You should go wine tasting with my mom, I think you two have the same tastes. When you make it to Washington, I think you’ll find our wine country pretty damn charming as well 🙂
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Leah, I would love to wine taste with your mom. PS: White wines are much kinder to klutzes, spill-wise!

  • Meghan
    September 4 2015

    Hiiii Meihoukai!

    Loved the post. Listen, welcome to your taste buds changing and broadening!

    I felt the same way about wine, then beer, then bourbon, then now scotch!

    I wrinkled my nose at all of those for a while until I actually tried studying them (what I liked, what I didn’t like, etc.) and realized that there are traits that I like about each.

    I ended up loving wine so much that I started working at a winery and became the tasting room manager (while I was working on my PhD in something entirely different), and now my husband and I make our own wine. 🙂

    Same thing with beer…I didn’t think I liked it until I tasted craft beers (not watered down crap in cans).

    Then all I could ever taste of bourbon was the overwhelming smell of alcohol…until I hung out in bourbon country and immersed myself in the learnings.

    THEN, I never thought I would tolerate Scotch…but then I went to Scotland and went to almost every distillery and now we have a massive Scotch collection. 🙂

    Never say never!

    Also, there’s nothing wrong with liking sweet or dry white wines. People have different palates, and sweet whites are actually very popular sellers. I personally vary between seasons on what I like – typically semi-dry whites in the summer, and dry reds in the winter. I personally lost the tolerance for sweet (high in sugar) wines – red or white – the longer I’ve been drinking wine, just because I’m able to pick up the minimal sugars in the dry wines, and that’s enough for me.

    Keep tasting and experimenting until you find what you love (and love even more, and love less…etc.). There’s a TON of wineries out there, and if you ever come to the Missouri/Illinois/Indiana region, I would be happy to give you a tour. 🙂 ((I even got married at a winery))

    xoxo

    (P.S. – how does one “swing on a rocking chair?” – I assume you meant porch swings? Ha!)

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Oh man, hard for me to ever imagine sippin’ on scotch… but a girl can dream! Ha. And yes, I suppose I mean rocking on a rocking chair!

  • This sounds like a heavenly way to spend the day. Sweet white are my favorite as well, and that meal at Bully Hill looks fantastic! …I may need to add this to my list as well!
    Beth | Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Please do, Beth! I’ll meet ya there with a bottle of Ravat 🙂

  • Elen
    September 5 2015

    LOVE Upstate NY! I moved to Buffalo last year, so have been exploring around here a little bit. I’m always amazed by how quickly you can get out into the countryside from here, and all the towns are sooo cute! The state parks are great, too, especially Alleghany and Letchworth.
    Elen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to either. Maybe I need to make it a goal to visit all the New York state parks someday!

  • Becca_in_DE
    September 6 2015

    This makes me want to check out Upstate New York, which after a boring summer program at Albany University, had never crossed my mind. I love your thoughts on transforming into a wine lover based on finally finding specific wines you really enjoy. I often find remembering my top wines as the hardest part. I had a similar growth experience living in Germany this year – but rather than finding wines I loved, I realized that wines I always thought I loved (sweet Reislings) weren’t as much my taste as I believed. I still love my Reislings but I’m discovering dry ones and Weißburgunders etc. Realizing there is so much more to German wine than I had seen in America and that my palate wasn’t as stagnate as I thought was really liberating as a wine lover. To see that my tastes have grown over the years was cool, freeing me from the preconceptions I had built over the years. (Okay I’m 24, so “years” might be pushing it, but you know what I mean haha) Anyway, can’t wait to read more from Upstate New York

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Aw, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Albany (that’s where I’m from!) Another vote for German wine — I never thought of it as a wine region, but perhaps that’s because beer gets all the press.

  • Anne Hyland Woodard
    September 7 2015

    This is such a beautiful description of our area! Thank you for visiting! I am over on one of the “C” lakes (Cayuga), but Keuka is by far my favorite! I can tell that you really “got us! Anyone planning to visit Keuka definitely needs to stop at Lime Berry Winery on Route 54 (east side of the lake). Taste their award winning wines in the coolest old fashioned school house you’ve ever seen, & sip wine in the Wine Garden afterwards! They have won many awards, but their Riesling (!) and Bunny Bunny Blush are both double gold medal winners and absolutely fabulous! Hope you will visit us again!

    • Meihoukai
      September 10 2015

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Anne. Well, if I wasn’t already planning a return trip I would be now — I’ll definitely check out Lime Berry next time I’m on Keuka!

  • Angelina
    September 8 2015

    Wow! Nice place… 🙂

  • Anna
    September 15 2015

    I SO hear you on the “wrong wine” business. This summer I traveled in Germany, and before the trip I was so excited about all the beer there, as I consider myself a beer drinker, and was always very meh on the wine. Well, the truth is, I like unfiltered white beers and like, Bud Light. There wasnt a single beer I liked in Germany. But instead I fell in love with their dry white wine and weinschorles, and it’s pretty much all I drink now since my return!

    • Meihoukai
      September 15 2015

      It’s great when you find the things you love! I’m still searching for a beer I can stomach…

  • Erika
    September 17 2015

    Hooray for sweet wines! As far as I see it if the grapes are supposed to be sweet, why shouldn’t the wines be, too?! I’d never heard of the Finger Lakes before, but this looks like a beautiful region!
    Erika recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      September 24 2015

      Ha, I’m with ya Erika! Love me some sweet grapey wines…

  • Kim
    September 18 2015

    Love Keuka Lake! It’s one of the most idyllic places in the world. The more I travel, the more I realize how lucky I am to call the Finger Lakes home. And Ravat 51 from Bully Hill is my very favorite wine, as well! If you love that, next time you come back, go to Red Newt Cellars on the east side of Seneca and try the Blue Newt White–yum!!!

    • Meihoukai
      September 24 2015

      If you love Ravat 51, I’ll give any and all of your suggestions a try 🙂 Blue Newt White, here I come!

  • Izy Berry
    September 21 2015

    Hi alex i really love your blog you write about different things to do !! you are different good writer
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  • Debbie
    January 12 2016

    So glad you enjoyed our coolest small town. In 1998 we stumbled on Hammondsport just driving around waiting for an event to start in near by PA. We fell in love and came back at least twice a year until we bought a house in 2006 as a vacation/eventual retirement home. I’m lucky enough to work remotely and moved in fulltime a year ago while my husband continues to commute back and forth to MD for work. Living the dream!! 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2016

      Living the dream indeed, Debbie! Love your story. I hope to return to Hammondsport again and check out more of the area — it was lovely.

  • Brynn Day
    January 12 2016

    So glad you loved it in, I was born and raised in Hammondsport, so of course I’m biased. If you ever do decide to come back, find a local because there are a few hidden gems (such as 10,000 delights) that are beautiful, but not known to the general public.

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2016

      I will definitely be back, Brynn 🙂 And when I do, I’ll be on the lookout for 10,000 delights…

  • Jeff
    January 12 2016

    Nice article. I grew up in Bath 7 miles from Hammondsport. I worked for a private grower ting and pick grapes near Dr. Franks. I no longer live in the area but sill like to return as often as I can. If you look at my wine rack all you will find is NYS wines.

    • Meihoukai
      January 13 2016

      Ever since this trip, I’m a convert too, Jeff! Can’t wait to load up on more of those Finger Lake Rieslings when I get home this summer…

  • Kay Bailey Kaiser
    January 13 2016

    Great pictures, especially the one of our tractor next to the little barn!

    • Meihoukai
      January 14 2016

      Aw, thanks for having such a photogenic little tractor there for me to capture 🙂 I was very excited to spot it!

  • Teri Wojdyla
    April 23 2016

    Grew up in Hammondsport, haven’t been back in years, Autumn is definitely the best, leaves turning, grapes ripening and picked, maple sap pouring into buckets and that aroma! You must return in the Fall.

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      I can imagine that would be beautiful, Teri! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  • Christina
    August 18 2016

    Hi Meihoukai-
    Thanks for the descriptions of your stops! I’m actually planning a trip to the finger lakes over Labor Day to travel around and find a cute place to get married next year. Nothing crazy just somewhere for our small party to have a great time and enjoy the fall in NY. Would love to hear about any additional beautiful stops along the way.

    • Meihoukai
      August 18 2016

      Hey Christina! Fun! I’d recommend checking out Corning, and perhaps stopping in Ithaca too. Such a beautiful part of the country! Enjoy — I’m sure your wedding will be beautiful.

  • Kim
    June 21 2017

    Oh I’m so glad I found this post! I was thinking about visiting the Finger Lakes from Connecticut, but wasn’t sure what to expect. Looks like, wine, wine and more wine, with some kayaking splashed in, which’ll make me one happy duck!
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    • Meihoukai
      June 23 2017

      Yes! I absolutely LOVE the Finger Lakes and was actually just talking to a friend about planning a trip back here soon. You’ll have a blast! Enjoy!