1981 – Mary Plane, of Plane’s Cayuga Vineyards (now called Cayuga Ridge Estates), looked at her empty parking lot and knew, if her fledgling winery was to succeed, she needed to fill it. What could she do to entice people to visit? Would people come if there were more to do, more to see? Thus began Mary’s vision of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. And, Mary was right!
Planes’s (Cayuga Ridge) Lucas, Americana, and Frontenac. But four unknown wineries weren’t enough of a draw, and Mary solicited participation from other attractions along and near route 89. In 1983, Lakeshore joined the group and all five wineries joined together and established the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail and helped produce the first brochure. This first brochure was audacious – a quote ” The CLWT offers a variety that is unmatched in wine touring and tasting… No where else will travelers experience such a multitude of premium wines, attractions, comfortable lodging, fine restaurants, friendly people, and a splendid scenery.” A bit overstated then, but coming to fruition now. New wineries started and joined: Knapp in 1984; Hosmer and Swedish Hill in 1986; Six Mile Creek in 1987, and Long Point in the 90’s. Montezuma and Thirsty Owl joined in 2003. After that came Buttonwood Grove in 2005. Six Eighty Cellars recently joined in 2020.
In 1987, Cayuga Lake was the first individual lake of the Finger Lakes to earn its own AVA approval. With our eastern exposures, vineyards are bathed in early morning sunshine, which helps to ripen their grapes in this northern, cool-climate region. Vineyard elevations never exceed 800 feet above the lake’s surface and steep slopes run down to its shore, facilitating air patterns that create a unique microclimate in autumn creating a perfect harvest season. At that time, cold air drains off the vineyards onto the lake, creating the vacuum which draws more cold air from the land. The continuous air flow is helpful in preventing cold pockets from settling and forming frost on the vines, extending the growing season to 165-170 days on average, which is three weeks longer than many other areas in the Finger Lakes region, making Cayuga Lake truly unique.
What makes us different? We were all grape growers first. We didn’t inherit big estates and established businesses. When the bottom fell out of the grape market in the mid 70’s, we adapted and changed to preserve our resources to grow and prosper. In addition to managing and working in our own wineries, we conduct the business of the CLWT utilizing the time, energy, and knowledge of our members.
As the first organized and longest running wine trail in America, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail has become a model for other wine trails both in New York and around the country. It is a benchmark for results attained by working together for a common goal. Thanks, Mary!