If you’ve never been to the Finger Lakes region of New York, you should consider taking a road trip. It’s five short hours from Pittsburgh — and an easy drive at that. The most traffic you’ll hit is in Buffalo. Or, if you don’t want to take I-90E, you can go across New York on I-86E and then meander up to the lakes from the lower end. Both are about the same distance. It depends on what you have planned.

My brother, Bob introduced us to the Finger Lakes in 2011 when we went on an excursion for a few days between Christmas and New Years. He had been taking parishioners from St. Gregory’s for several years by bus, but we had never gone on any of those trips. Now Bob, being a priest, has no time to take over the holidays, but is able to steal away the last week of the year. So, he’s always looking for someone who wants to go skiing or on some trip with him. This year, our winter was warmer, and it looked like we wouldn’t hit any major snow that week, so I agreed to drive (My SUV holds five people, plus has a third row seat). Then Bob decided to pick up “juice” at one of the wineries, so that meant no third row seat and not much room for luggage — we had to fill four large buckets (he makes his own wine from this juice). There were five of us who made the trip, and we were packed in my SUV!

I remember that trip like it was yesterday. It all began with Tom being annoyed at me that I wanted to go on this trip. He didn’t really want to go — he just wanted to stay home and relax, but he reluctantly gave in. Me, I was missing Bob — as he had been moved that year from St. Gregory’s to St. Benedict the Abbott and we didn’t see him much anymore — and I was having a hard time with the changes at our parish. So anyways, I had to deal with attitude from Tom for the entire holiday weekend — I even prayed about it, because I felt caught in the middle and guilty that I was excited for this trip — a holiday adventure! Then it got more complicated when Bob decided to go skiing at Holiday Valley with the youth group from his parish by riding the bus up with them in the morning, but not taking the bus home with them that night. We were to drive to Ellicottville, NY and pick him up at the resort before continuing on to Watkins Glen, NY.

We drove into freezing rain near Meadville, PA before even getting to Erie. So much for the warm weather and clear conditions! We drove in freezing rain and sleet for the next couple of hours as the temperature bounced from 34° to 33° to 32° and back up. I was a nervous wreck and Father Louie kept telling me it was okay — he asked me every couple of minutes what my temperature gauge was reading — he was as nervous as me. I could only imagine what we were driving into when we hit the ski resort!

The ski resort was beautiful, much like what you’d expect a lodge to look like. After we picked up Bob, we headed to a brewery in downtown Ellicottville to get something to eat. It was packed and we waited for a table. Tom was still pretty annoyed and not having a good time at all. I was really worried, because we had two more days to go — and I was feeling pretty guilty that this trip was ruining his holiday break.

But then all that changed! We made it to Watkins Glen and stayed at a gorgeous hotel — the Harbor Hotel. We had an awesome breakfast the next morning and Bob had our day planned — visiting a few waterfalls close to Watkins Glen and stopping at a few wineries on our way to Geneva. He took us to Hector Falls, not far from Watkins Glen and then to the Montour Falls that included Aunt Sarah’s Falls and SHE-QUA-GA Falls.

Then we headed north on Rt. 14 that ran along Seneca Lake to visit some of Bob’s favorite wineries. Our first stop was Lakewood Vineyards — where we tasted five or six wines — my favorite was the 2010 Niagara wine, a very sweet wine made from Niagara grapes from 2010. We bought a bottle to bring home. We next went to Glenora Wine Cellars, not far from Lakewood — they had incredible views of Seneca Lake, NY. Bob had us stop at Father Dave’s home (a close friend of his) to say hello, located on the west side of Seneca Lake. We spent an hour there. We also stopped at Magness Winery, Anthony Road Wine Company and Belhurst Estate Winery, before arriving in Geneva and checking into our Hampton Inn hotel.

Tom was having an absolute blast and so was I! The day was so enjoyable and so relaxing — we laughed the entire time. We then headed over to our absolute favorite winery — Three Brothers Wineries & Estates. The comedy continued as the wines at Bagg Dare were all sweet wines and had humorous names like “Well Hung”, “Poor Limp Richards” and “69 Ways to Drink Wine” We, of course, bought multiple bottles here. We also tasted beer at the Warhorse Brewery, part of the Three Brothers Winery. From Three Brothers, we drove across the country between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake so that Bob could show us how beautiful that lake was. Here we watched the sun go down — what a gorgeous winter sunset. And, we watched a huge flock of white ducks take off from the fields. There had to be thousands of them and the sound they made was deafening!

We wrapped up our trip the next day by getting Bob’s “juice” from a winery off of Keuka Lake. It was located up a hill that I wasn’t so sure my SUV could even drive up. And once all our buckets were filled, I was pretty nervous about driving back down. It was straight down! We made it with no problems and headed home after that.

Tom and I have a new appreciation for wine. We didn’t drink much of it before and we still don’t drink a ton of it. But, for a trip that Tom wasn’t really looking forward to, and I was certainly worried about — it turned out to be quite the surprise for us! We couldn’t wait to go back and talked about it all the time. We knew we only had a small taste of what the Finger Lakes region offered. While it was incredibly cold, the lakes were gray, the trees were bare and everything was brown, this trip was the most beautiful end to the year. And we count down the days until we return again.

Let me know your thoughts!