Historical castle offers free wine on tap for guests

belhurst castle When thinking of castles, many people imagine kings and queens, old-world architecture, and decades of history. In New York, however, there is a castle that is not only a historical structure, but also a wine-lovers retreat.

The Belhurst Castle is located in the town of Geneva in the Finger Lakes region, overlooking Seneca Lake. Built in the 1800′s, it still contains beamed cathedral ceilings, mosaic tiled fireplaces, and period decor. And for the oenophiles, it is also home to the Belhurst Winery.

The winery itself has won numerous awards, such as Best New World Riesling, two Best in Class, two Gold, and one Platinum from the 2011 Jerry D. Mead’s New World International Wine Competition. Visitors to the winery can sample these elite wines as well as take part in an array of wine and dinner pairings.

Okay, so while having a castle on a winery isn’t too new of a concept, what is really cool about Belhurst is their wine spigot. For those staying at Our Chambers in the Castle, an on-site hotel, there is a complimentary wine tap built into the wall of the lobby that allows guests to enjoy a glass of wine whenever they please. Yes, you read that right. Free wine. On tap. For guests. Now, you can take in history while taking in a glass (or three!) of quality vino.

Calling all single snow bunnies: Speed dating hits the slopes this Winter

bristol mountainWant to find love by trying something a little out of the ordinary this winter?

Bristol Mountain in the Finger Lakes region of New York has come up with a way to help singles find a compatible ski buddy…and maybe even the love of their life. On January 14 and February 11, 2012, single skiers can sign up for Ski Dating, which includes three, 45 minute ski or snowboarding dates with three potential matches. And to get daters in the mood for romance and help them get to know each other, Bristol Mountain will host a wine and cheese mixer before hitting the slopes.

If you’re interested in attending one of these sessions, pre-registration is required. The price is $15 and does not include life tickets or ski rentals. For more information click here.

Fall festivals: five delicious ways to celebrate

fall festivalsThere’s something really depressing about seeing the last of the tomatoes, corn, and stonefruit at the farmers market, the withering vines in my neighbor’s gardens. But fall is also an exciting time for produce geeks, what with all the peppers and squash, pomegranates and persimmons.

If you love yourself some good food and drink, here are five reasons to welcome fall. No matter where you live in the North America, at least one of these is guaranteed to be coming soon to a town near you.

1. Hit a harvest festival
From the hokey (corn mazes, hay rides) to the downright debaucherous (late-night live music and beer gardens, camping in orchards), harvest festivals are a blast, no matter what your age. A great harvest festival will include delicious food; local craft beer, cider, or wine; farm tours and seminars; a children’s area and special activities; live music, and, if you’re lucky, a beautiful, bucolic setting in which to experience it all. Some festivals run the span of a weekend, providing an opportunity to take in more of the educational offerings.

Below are some of my favorite festivals, all of which have an educational component to them. Should you find yourself in Northern California in early October, it’s worth a detour to attend the famous Hoes Down Harvest Festival (Oct.1-2) at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, near Davis. It’s one hell of a party (there’s also a top-notch children’s activity area, so little people will have fun, too); definitely plan on camping in the orchard and bring your swim suit; the farm is located beside Cache Creek.

Other great celebrations of fall: Vashon Harvest Farm Tour (Sept. 25), Vashon Island, WA; CUESA Harvest Festival (Oct. 22), Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco, CA; Annual Harvest Festival, Sustainable Settings (mid-Sept.; date varies, but mark your calendars for next year!) Carbondale, CO.

September 22nd, from 7:30-9pm, the 16th Annual Harvest in the Square is being held in Union Square; online tickets are still available until tomorrow at noon for what is one of New York’s premier food and wine events. Some general admission tickets will be available at the event for a higher price.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zakVTA]fall festivals2. Check out Crush
In North America, the wine grape harvest is held in September or October, depending upon weather patterns. In Napa Valley, “Crush” has just started, and with it, fall colors on the vines; barrel tastings; special winery tours, wine-and-cheese pairings, and up-close-and-personal views of the Crush itself. Even if you’re not an oenophile, it’s by far the most beautiful time to visit Napa and it’s neighboring wine region, Sonoma Country. For Napa wineries and event listings, click here. For California’s Central Coast wine region events, click here.

Check out wine harvest events in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Washington state’s Yakima and Walla Walla regions, and British Columbia’s Fraser and Okanogan Valleys (go to Wines of the Northwest for events calendar on all of the aforementioned); for New York’s Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, and other regions go to Uncork New York!

3. Go apple pickingfall festivals
With apple-growing regions scattered all over North America–from Virginia and Pennsylvania to New York, Washington state, British Columbia, and California–there’s no shortage of opportunities to attend festivals or U-picks. This traditional fall pastime is a fun activity for kids and supports the local economy and foodshed. Put up apple butter, -sauce, or freeze a pie for Thanksgiving, but be sure to save enough for winter (all apples and pears are placed in cold storage once the growing season ends, so the fruit you buy later in the season won’t be freshly picked). Store in a cool, dry, dark place. P.S. Don’t forget to buy some cider doughnuts if they’re available.

Please note that due to unusual weather patterns (aka “global warming”) this past year, the harvest is delayed in many parts of the country, including Washington. Check with local farms before heading out.

4. Visit a cidery
If you prefer your apples fermented, there are some excellent craft cideries throughout North America. The tradition of craft cider distilling hails from Western Europe, but domestically, the hot spots are the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia), parts of the Midwest, and the Northeast.
fall festivals
5. Feast at a farm dinner
For food lovers, few things beat dining outdoors in an orchard or pasture, surrounded by the people and ingredients that made your meal possible. Farm dinners are a growing national trend; they may be hosted independently by the farm (Washington’s Dog Mountain Farm, Colorado’s Zephyros Farm, and California’s Harley Farms Goat Dairy are my picks) or hosted by companies like Portland, Oregon’s Plate & Pitchfork and Boulder’s Meadow Lark Farm Dinners. Many farm dinners are fundraisers to help protect local agricultural easements or wetlands, but your participation also supports the farm and local foodshed.

Farm dinners are also held at wineries, distilleries, craft breweries, mariculture farms, and creameries; a tour should be included. The best part, however, is when the guests include everyone from the local cheesemaker, rancher, fisherman, or winemaker, to the potter who made the plates. It’s both humbling and gratifying to meet the people who work so hard to ensure local communities have a safe, sustainable food supply.

[Photo credits: grapes, Flickr user minnucci]

Wine Tasting Room Etiquette

The Secret Lost World of New York’s Finger Lakes

The funny thing about road trips is that you end up spending a lot of time behind the wheel of your car. There’s always another city to get to, asphalt to be consumed, another waypoint to hit. So by the time I pulled into Watkins Glen, a small town in New York’s Finger Lakes region, I was ready to get out and stretch my legs.

Fortunately, the village is home to one of the coolest state parks in New York, hidden in plain sight, right off the main drag.

Traveling the American Road – Watkins Glen State Park


Watkins Glen State Park is home to a “staircase of waterfalls” that cascade down through innumerable layers of shale and sandstone, guarded by towering cliff faces from which heavy drops of condensation fall, splashing on hikers’ heads. It’s a Lost World here, with electric green ferns dangling, water whooshing over ledges and swirling in natural Jacuzzis, mist hanging heavily in the air and amateur naturalists armed with telescoping aluminum walking sticks and floppy, broad-brimmed hats. (Another secret of the park is that the pathway along Glen Creek, while sometimes slippery, is hardly a technical hike.)

The park is a verdant escape, a place for a one-hour break from reality, planted right in the heart of a town best known as a car-racing capital, the home to Watkins Glen International, one of the country’s most storied road tracks. There’s no doubt the park gets crowded on the weekends, but during my Wednesday morning visit? I was happy to have my time outside the car to myself.

Think local for a low-cost wine-tasting trip

When most people think of going on a wine-tasting trip, their thoughts tend to head west – to California, Washington, and Oregon. It’s not surprising. From Napa Valley in California to Walla Walla in Washington, these states are some of the biggest producers of wine in the US. But if you don’t live in one of these states, there’s no need to venture far from home for a weekend of swirling and sipping. In fact, almost every state in the US has at least one winery, so you can enjoy a low-cost wine tasting vacation in a long weekend. Check out these wine-tasting regions in every corner of the country.

Midwest
The Midwest states have traditionally been agriculture centers. Now many farms are trading potatoes and corn for grapes, and opening their doors to tourists. Illinois is home to around 80 wineries located on six wine trails within a few hours of Chicago. Most of Michigan’s 50 or so wineries are located in the west and southwest, near Traverse City or along the coast of Lake Michigan. Even Missouri has five wine trails scattered around the state.

Northeast
New York’s Finger Lakes area is the jewel of the northeast wine region. Nearly 100 wineries are spread along three main wine trails, which surround four beautiful lakes. Not to be outdone, Maryland has almost 30 wineries open for tastings, and even tiny Rhode Island has five.

Southeast
Kentucky is now making a name for itself in the wine world, with over 30 wineries clustered in the north central area of the state. Florida is home to over 15 scattered wineries and Virginia, the largest producer in the region, has nearly 150 wineries on several easy to follow trails.

West/Southwest
Grapes in Arizona? Yep, there are over 20 wineries in the state, most just south of Tuscon. New Mexico has almost 40, most of which are clustered around Albuquerque and Taos, and Texas is home to over 80 wineries, predominantly in Hill Country, south of Austin. Colorado, which has over 60 wineries, boasts the highest grape-growing elevation in the country, and even Nebraska has more than 30 wine producers operating in the state.