All Vacations Must Come to an End

Jun 16, 2017

If you ask a winemaker, the term “Vintner Vacation” is a bit of an oxymoron. They’ll likely say that vacations do not exist for winemakers. It is, thankfully, a labor of love. That is not to say that work cannot be enjoyed without the occasional vacation, but rather that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. So, the team at the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail has come to the rescue.

Five winners – three hailing from Pennsylvania, one from Connecticut and one from Vermont each brought a lucky friend of theirs to experience a bit of what the Trail has to offer. The group spent three days and two nights relishing in the sights and tastes of Cayuga Lake.

The Vacation began with a picnic-style lunch on the patio at Knapp’s Vineyard Restaurant. Chef John McNabb and team prepared sriracha chicken salad wraps with tortilla chips and their signature Cayuga Caviar (a delicious vinegary black bean, onion and corn salsa), pomme frittes and an assortment of chilled wines. The Brut was the first bottle finished, and this time it was not my fault! After lunch, tasting room manager Micah walked the group through a tasting, including the signature spirits, Cucumber Vodka and Limoncello. Their time at Knapp concluded with a tour of the vineyard and production facility by longtime winemaker, Steve DiFrancesco.

Day one, stop two was to Buttonwood Grove Winery. We lucked out because it was bottling day at the winery. The group got to witness the owner Dave Pittard along with winemaker Susan Passmore and others bottling Dry Riesling. Then, team leaders Marcia and Kathy directed a very unique exercise with the group, a lesson in writing wine descriptions. The participants were given wines and asked to take notes on the perceived aromas, body, flavors and finish of their wine samples. Then, their assignment was to craft a written description that would make the wine seem appealing to a potential buyer. It was much more difficult than they had imagined, but a very fun experience.

Our extremely hot and humid Day One ended early-afternoon and the group disbursed for dinner of their choosing at various local restaurants. Some stayed overnight in the rustic yet modern cabins at Buttonwood Grove Winery while others hung their hats down the road at the new and luxurious Cayuga Lake Cabins. I am told that when they plan their return trips to the Finger Lakes, the cabins will be among their first choice for accommodations.

On Tuesday, the group visited Long Point Winery by a scenic boat ride with “Captain DD” via Water to Wine Tours of Ovid, where owner and winemaker, Gary Barletta walked them through a vertical tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon. It was incredibly interesting to see how the different vintages affect the wine, coupled with the amount of time it has spent aging in the bottle.

Then, as we were brought back to the shore to catch our boat, we got notification that a storm was hovering over Goose Watch Winery. We had plans to visit for a tasting and to tour the sparkling facility, but for the safety of our guests, we chose not to boat into the storm and went directly to Thirsty Owl Wine Company and its Bistro.  After a full tasting, Executive Chef Sean Agate treated everyone to what seemed like a 15 course meal! On the table upon arrival were “Spreads and Breads” featuring a Tomato Basil, an Olive Tapenade, and a Roasted Garlic Hummus with fresh bread. Next, came a platter presenting an assortment of Muranda Cheese, local from Waterloo, with crackers and seasonal fruits. Then, pinwheel sandwich bites and dill pickles to hold our attention while they prepped the main course, chicken riggies with fresh goat cheese crumbled on top. The meal concluded with vanilla bean ice cream from the Cayuga Lake Creamery over baked apple crisp. With exceptionally full bellies, we were lugged in two trips on the Kubota from the tasting room back to our boat. Our tour concluded as Captain DD dropped us off at the Busy Bee Market and Cottages for the evening.

We were well received by the gracious owner, Vera McLafferty, who made sure everyone was comfortably checked into their overnight accommodations. She and her team had prepped a family-style picnic dinner for us to enjoy later that evening. Most of the group stayed in four quaint waterfront cottages, and the rest in the Busy Bee Lodge which comfortably sleeps eleven and overlooks the lake and the rest of the property.

Their final day began with an early morning session at the new on premise Yoga Barn and breakfast at the Busy Bee Market. After packing up, the gang headed to Lucas Vineyards. There, they met with mother and daughter team Ruth and Stephanie Lucas, original owners of the oldest winery on Cayuga Lake and some of the founding members of the Wine Trail. Ruth and Stephanie spoke of their experience as winery owners when the industry first emerged and what it has been like to endure all the changes the industry has undergone in their thirty-plus years of business. We were then joined by Stephanie’s husband and their lauded winemaker, Jeff Houck, who offered tasting of his favorites before bringing the group to see some of the oldest vines on the lake, then explained their umbrella trellising system and production practices. Our guests were particularly interested in the history behind the winery and their personal stories that are even conveyed through their marketing and wine labels.

Our Vintner Vacation concluded with a tasting at Americana Vineyards, followed by lunch at their Crystal Lake Café. The meal began with charcuterie boards and each person ordered their choice from the menu. My personal recommendations are the Grilled Cheese, which has melted cheddar, gruyere, goat cheese, smoked gouda and tomato on sourdough and the Lamb Burger, with lettuce, tomato, red onion, Kalamata tapenade, rosemary aioli and feta on a roll. Simply. Delicious.

Now it’s back to reality for our ten lucky participants of the second annual Vintner Vacation along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. I would like to thank all our hosts and everyone who made this program possible. To be notified when the entry period for the 2018 Vintner Vacation has opened, submit your contact information at