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Exploring Yates County Wine along the finger lakes

By Sandra Scott

Yates County is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, midway between Pennsylvania and Lake Ontario. It borders on three of the Finger Lakes: Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua. The county seat, Penn Yan, gets its name from a compromise by early settlers who arrived from Pennsylvania and the New England area: “Penn” for Pennsylvania and “Yan” for Yankees.

The county is host to a large agricultural base that also includes a thriving Mennonite and Amish population. Some of the various types of agriculture include dairy and crop farms, grape vineyards and apple orchards. 

Yates County hosts a variety of events from Yoga on the Lake, live music at a variety of venues, arts festivals, along with Cruising Night and Block Party.

1. History

The best place to learn about the area is at the Yates County History Center in Penn Yan. The center is comprised of three buildings, including the Oliver House, home to three generations of local doctors, and the Carriage House, where visitors can find information about Jemima Wilkinson, founder of the Public Universal Friend religious group. Learn about the Underground Railroad in the Underwood Museum. There are seasonal guided walking tours. In Dresden, learn about Robert Ingersoll, an influential orator and free thinker who was ahead of his time.

2. Drive About

Yates County is the perfect place for a scenic drive-about. The rolling hills are dotted with vineyards. There are many scenic lookouts with views of the lakes. Take notice of the variety of architecture. There are nine cobblestone houses, some of which are on the National Historic Register, along with several saltbox houses. There are wonderful examples of Greek Revival, Federal, Gothic, and Italianate styles of architecture.

3. Trails

There are many trails to walk but the most popular is the Keuka Lake outlet trail where one can hike, bike, horseback ride, snowmobile or cross-country ski. Follow the trail from Penn Yan to Dresden and enjoy the scenery and waterfalls. Among the other trails in the area bird watchers will want to hike one of the trails at Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve.

4. Wine Time

Yates County claims to be the largest grower of wine grapes outside of California with over 5,000 acres of vineyards. There are more than 30 wineries. The county is part of two wine trails: the Keuka Lake Wine Trail and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. There is a winery for every oenophile. Besides wine tasting and sales, some wineries offer tours and have onsite cafes. Some are open year-round.

5. Craft Beverages

There is more than wine to enjoy in Yates County. There are several craft beer breweries. Some are licensed New York state farm breweries, meaning that the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. Each brewery has its own distinctive flavor. Several offer cider, too. The Lyon Smith Brewery creates beer in the English tradition. Check out its unique gaming tables. There are several distilleries, including O’Begley Distillery, featuring Irish-style pot whiskey.

6.  Culinary

There are several great restaurants in downtown Penn Yan plus most of the wineries and breweries have small cafes. If it is sweets you are looking for, you are sure to find in it at the Keuka Candy Emporium, an old fashioned candy store with all the old favorites sweets, including a soda bar and old fashioned ice cream counter. The Spotted Duck is a local favorite for duck egg custard that visitors can enjoy while watching the ducks. Seneca Farms is another local favorite offering ice cream and chicken. The most unique culinary experience is the “Not your typical Upstate Mennonite and Amish Tour” that includes a home cooked meal with a Mennonite family.

7.  Arts

The Yates County Art Center has a storefront on Main Street in Penn Yan. Artwork is on display but it also includes the Flick Gallery; Rosenfeld Studio where they hold workshops; and Sunny Point on Keuka Lake where most of the seasonal workshops are held. Sunny Point includes housing for visiting instructors and artist residencies. Also on Main Street in Penn Yan is Starving Artist Woodwork, offering many items crafted from recycled materials. The nearby Potters Gallery features the works of over two dozen potters using a variety of methods.

8.  Water and Rail Times

There are several parks and some, like Keuka State Park, have a beach. Kayaks and boat rentals are available at several locations. Keuka Lake is known for lake trout and bass fishing. There are also bike rentals. For a unique dry land adventure check out Rail Riders. Learn about the history of the area while peddling the five miles of rails through the countryside.

9.  The Windmill

The Windmill Farm and Craft Market hosts over 175 vendors. There is truly something for everyone including great food, fresh produce, flowers, custom cabinetry, furniture, fashion, local wineries, artistry, gifts, micro brews, entertainment, and so much more. The Windmill offers many on site dining options from full restaurants to unending snack options. With six wineries, a brewery and a distillery, The Windmill is a one stop destination for tastings. Admission is free and there is plenty of parking.

10. The Unique

The World’s Largest Pancake Griddle hangs on the outside wall of the Birkett Mills buckwheat mill. On Sept. 27, 1987 it cooked a two-ton pancake. The batter was poured into it by a sterilized cement mixer and flipped with the help of a construction carne. It was topped with 15 gallons of syrup and 68 pounds of butter. Truly a hidden gem, Garrett Memorial Chapel on Bluff Point, is on the National Historic Register. The Norman Gothic church is nestled in the woods overlooking Keuka Lake.