Since New York legalized gay marriage this past summer (July 24, to be exact), I've had the chance to tour several parts of this remarkably extensive and diverse state. Invariably, and especially among GLBT travelers, there's a tendency to think primarily of New York City and Long Island (home to the gay resort community of Fire Island) when thinking of visiting the Empire State. But there's definitely a lot more to it, from the sophisticated towns of the Hudson River Valley, to the rugged and spectacular terrain of the Adirondacks (which I visited in early October), to what's become the leading wine-touring destination in the Eastern United States, the scenic Finger Lakes Wine Country.
I made a brief visit to this area (here's a journal highlighting some of the wineries, restaurants, hotels, and attractions I visited on this trip), spending a night in the progressive college town of Ithaca, last year. And just this past weekend, I spent three days more thoroughly exploring this swatch of rolling countryside punctuated by deep, narrow lakes that's situated in western New York State, extending from the Pennsylvania border and the cities of Binghamton and Elmira north to Rochester and Syracuse. The more than 200 wineries in the Finger Lakes are situated chiefly around Seneca Lake and to a lesser extent along the shores of neighboring Cayuga Lake to the east (on which Ithaca is located) and smaller Keuka Lake to the west.
The big story here for wine lovers is the vast rise in quality of winemaking in these parts. Wineries in these parts are producing internationally acclaimed Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Ice Wines, and others. But along with the wineries, there's been a boon in exceptionally good farm-to-table restaurants, elegant country inns and hotels, and dozens of artisan food and drink producers, from cheese dairies to microdistilleries to craft breweries. It's a fantastic destination for food lovers, and the wealth of gay-friendly B&Bs and hotels make it a fine vacation spot for same-sex couples planning a romantic weekend in the country within a few hours' driving distance of several big cities (New York City, Toronto, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Montreal, to name a few).
And with gay marriage now legal in New York, the Finger Lakes area is also becoming an ideal setting for a wedding. Already since the law passed this summer, some venues around the area have held gay weddings, including one of the most beautiful wineries I visited this weekend, Atwater Estate Vineyards, which overlooks glorious Seneca Lake. That same day, I had a fantastic lunch and sampled dozens of outstanding wines at Red Newt Cellars Winery & Bistro, where I was shown around by Brandon Seager, one of the only openly gay winemakers in the country.
For more on the area, read my story about touring the Finger Lakes, and also check out the excellent website produced by the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association.