Saturday, June 6, 2020

Finger Lakes Wineries Opening Up After COVID-19

The Finger Lakes is one of New York's premier wine tourism destinations, but like the rest of the state, it shuttered its wineries to tourists in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the area weathered the lockdown, many wineries offered contactless delivery options and curbside pickup on pre-ordered bottles. While that was a good compromise during the peak of the pandemic, many wine lovers have been eager for a more engaged wine tourism experience again.

This weekend, I visited the Finger Lakes and got a first-hand view of what re-opening this wine region looks like-- including ways that wineries have adapted to offer safe and satisfying experiences to consumers.


Dr. Konstantin Frank

Dr. Konstantin Frank was a legend in the Finger Lakes, famous for successfully cultivating vinifera grapes in this cold weather region. The current winery that grew from his original venture is located in Hammondsport, a town situated on Keuka Lake's western shore, When I visited on Friday, June 5, 2020, the crew was offering walk-up wine ordering in addition to online and phone sales.  I was able to go to a window, review a list of wines, and chat with a helpful tasting room representative about them.  After I made my selection and paid, the bottles were brought to a parking area in a sturdy cloth bag, and I was on my way. The staff told me that the winery would begin hosting outdoor tastings by appointment starting next Saturday, June 13.

Heart and Hands Wine Company 

This small winery --  situated on a bucolic hillside in Union Springs, NY -- is owned and run by Tom and Susan Higgins.  When I visited on June 6, 2020, they had just begun offering outdoor wine tastings. Metal tables were well spaced in a gravel lot, and guests were offered a choice of two flights with five wines each for $10.  I chose the Pinot Noir flight, being familiar with their high quality Pinots from a previous visit. The staff wore masks, and visitors were asked to wear masks if they entered the winery to use a restroom or wanted to make a purchase inside.  It was wonderful to sit down on a beautiful sunny day and enjoy a wine tasting in person once more. While this company had developed an active online wine tasting program, all the guests seemed appreciative and in good spirits to be welcomed at a winery again.

Keuka Spring Vineyards 

Keuka Spring is located in the town of Penn Yan, NY, and is situated on a ridge above Keuka Lake. The winery has an established seating area with comfortable Adirondack chairs offering majestic lake views. Additional seating was offered under the shade of a party tent. When I visited on June 6, 2020, it was also their first weekend offering wine tastings again. I saw many small groups enjoying wine samples as they spread out, laughed, and sipped.

I was able to enter the shop and select my own wines without feeling rushed.  As with all the other wineries, masks were worn by all staff, and guests were expected to do the same when inside. Hand sanitizer available by the cash register was a thoughtful touch.

Outdoor dining resumes in Finger Lakes

On June 5, 2020, I was able to indulge in my first restaurant meal since mid March.  My daughter and I visited the Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern on the western shore of Keuka Lake.  This restaurant was well situated to reopen, as it has three outdoor seating areas -- all with gorgeous lake views.  Menus were printed on paper - the entrees seemed limited, but there were certainly ample options. I was also able to enjoy a lovely Hunt Country Pinot Gris made at a winery just up the road. While my server apologized for serving it in a plastic cup, I was thrilled to drink wine sitting at a restaurant.  I noticed that all the silver wear was wrapped in large napkins that were tucked in around the edges - another nod to sanitary practices.  My daughter and I enjoyed lingering at our table, savoring the food, wine, and the rare privilege of having a restaurant experience.

To provide more context for this get-away, the areas that I visited were not affected badly by the pandemic, and I therefore felt that - with proper precautions - arranging a visit to the Finger Lakes would be worth it.  New York state is conducting staged re-openings, and this region is far ahead of New York City.  When the weather cooperates, the range of outdoor wine tastings and restaurant experiences - along with the natural beauty of the region - make a trip to the Finger Lakes a wonderful treat as we begin to travel again.