ITHACA, N.Y. — Without the Cayuga Wine Trail, Laura Winter Falk probably wouldn't be in business as a tour operator. Falk is co-owner of Experience the Finger Lakes Co., a new Ithaca-based touring company. She said about three quarters of her business centers around shuttling tourists to and from the region's wineries and educating them about the wines they taste, she said.
“Most of the calls in our business deal with wanting to go to the wineries,” she said. “It's the number one attractor to our region.”
While the company also showcases the area's gorges, parks and cultural centers, the wineries are the main course — but the idea isn't simply to let guests get drunk. “Our goal is to have the guests fully experience the wineries, from history, science and tasting,” Falk said.
The growth of the Finger Lakes wine region has been a boon for touring and limousine companies like Falk's, in addition to boosting customers to a number of other local businesses like restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, cheese makers and even a cookbook publisher.
Eric Russo, general manager of Six Mile Creek Vineyards, said that as the first winery on the trail for tourists from New York City driving north on Route 79, he and his staff often act as ambassadors, recommending local restaurants and hotels and suggesting places to see in the area. He said non-winery businesses have quickly seen the benefits of being involved with the trail as an associate member.
“They're saying, ‘Hey it's a good idea to be involved with these wineries, people on wine tours need a place to sit down and have a meal or stay the night,'” Russo said.
“I think wineries give people a lot more of a reason to come to Ithaca,” said Colleen Schuler, co-owner of City Lights Bed & Breakfast and an associate member of the wine trail.
She estimates that 40% of her guests go on a wine tour or do tastings at a winery. “It's a huge draw for us.”
During the summer tourism season — which coincides with the grape growing and harvesting season at the wineries — limousine companies say the wine trails provide much of their business. “Right now we're swamped with wine tours,” said Ron Lower of First Class Limousines, an Ithaca-based company he started in January. About 50% of his summer business comes from wine tours.
Lower said he takes all the work out of the hands of his guests, offering to provide personalized tours of the region and the wineries. He said people call to ask him questions about wineries all the time.
Although Superior Limousines of Cortland mainly transports wedding guests, owner Joe Fezza said he's constantly asked to do wine tours, and they've become a large part of his business — if not yet an essential part.
“If I have any openings, it's filled by a wine tour,” he said. “It's a good thing, because in the fall the weddings drop off and the wine tours take their place.”
But Fezza said the wineries lose their appeal when the weather turns cold. “The week after Halloween, (wine tours) die right off.”
Source: Ithica Journal