Winey Dogs AllowedAug 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
On a summer morning, I loaded the red dog bed in the back of the SUV and surprised Hulk by inviting him on the tour I’d planned for our friends from North Carolina who were eager to visit as many FLX wineries as possible. I hate leaving Hulk at home alone, and this trip was designed to see if we could include him and still have fun ourselves. My husband, Jimmy, drove because he is the largest and, while he likes wine, is not quite as crazy about it as the rest of us. (If you want to know what he does like to drink, see our February 2023 cover story.)
We headed up the west side of Seneca first. At 11:30 a.m., we pulled into Lakewood Vineyards’ parking lot, just north of Watkins Glen. The grounds were in full summer splendor. We were finally experiencing real heat, and the picnic tables with red umbrellas scattered across the green expanse beckoned. I assume Hulk felt the pull, because he pulled me in that direction. But not so fast. I’d been assured that well-behaved and leashed dogs were welcome indoors.
Two- and four-footed greeters met us with smiles and sniffs. Harper, a blonde Labrador, made Hulk feel at ease. Hearing our plan to get a glass and walk around the vineyard, we were directed to the bar. I knew I wanted Lakewood’s Bubbly Candeo. Melanie and John sampled, then settled on cab franc and riesling, respectively. Jimmy surprised me by getting a rosé spritzer. (After twenty-four years you think you know a guy...) While all this was being decided, another canine came over, accompanied by a friendly fellow in a Hawaiian shirt who introduced the Australian shepherd as Cake Pan III. Hulk is a middle-of-the-pack dog, so I didn’t worry when Cake Pan III growled a little to assert his status, but Kevin Barnes, the tasting room steward, whisked him outside. No growling allowed. (A good winery rule no matter how many legs a visitor has.)
At the far end of the vineyard sat a white gazebo that’s a perfect spot for a proposal. We appreciated the shade. Mel had her water bottle but for some reason did not want Hulk’s jowly mouth all over it. Jimmy, whose Sidekick Session Spritz came in a small bottle (with perhaps a previous Cake Pan on the label), offered his now-empty glass for Hulk to drink from. It was water from home, so unexciting. When we returned to the patio water bowl, I asked where their water came from. Turns out it’s a vintage from a private reservoir shared with only a few houses. Hulk obviously approved.
Next stop was the Fox Run Vineyards Café. Hulk and I stayed out back under the wisteria-draped pergola while the others ordered inside. There was a large rubber water bowl and a hose for easy refilling. This water was a fairly common varietal known as Penn Yan city water, but Hulk enjoyed the complimentary Bo’s Bones gourmet organic dog biscuit. Human lunch highlights were the Mud Creek Bison tacos prepared with a slightly spicy Lemberger braise, and the charcuterie board with local meats and cheeses, cab franc applesauce, Brud’s pesto spread (as in Chef Brud Holland), sweet dried cherries, and Stony Brook pepitas. Jimmy got a dry rosé and John got a riesling—the pattern for the day. Mel drank chardonnay, and I sipped merlot. Hulk appreciated the cool gravel more than the whirring noises made by two-legged puppies and their toy airplanes. But I’d brought treats for him, so he was easily convinced to leave them to their play.
Before heading to Seneca’s east side, we stopped off at Trestle Thirty One in Geneva to pick up wine I’d ordered. Even though they don’t have an outdoor area, this is a dog-friendly winery. Sue Conrad, hospitality manager, pulled out a bag of Beggin’ Strips to prove it. Soon enough, we were all settled in the main tasting room below the chandelier left over the building’s days as a tattoo parlor. Hulk took a snooze by the AC vent while we sampled some of the ’21s just released, and Sue, a former science teacher, schooled us about winemaking.
I’d planned our day to end at Boundary Breaks, so we could enjoy the dog park and western view across the lake. Sadly, the smoke from Canadian wildfires obscured the view. But inside, the staff fussed over Hulk. John tasted his first ice wine before reverting to riesling. Jimmy got a 2023 Coca-Cola. I got a dry rosé, especially lovely on a hot evening, then Hulk and I headed to where he could zoom while I sat at a table in the dog park. When he was done, we joined the others lounging in green Adirondack chairs. It was near closing, and when a cooler of ice was dumped, I took Hulk over for his first taste of winery ice. The next cooler, which Diana Lyttle, co-owner, kindly brought for him, had some water in the bottom. She explained then that the smoke was a concern for the vines because smoke particles hold moisture and therefore pose a mold risk. “The weather increases the disease pressure on the grapes,” she said. “That’s what we worry about.”
Vowing to return when there was no smoke, we piled in the car to talk of what we’d tasted, lamenting that we couldn’t have stayed longer. Mel and John were heading back home, but Jimmy and I—and Hulk—can come back. As Hulk’s snores merged with the sound of tires on Rt. 414, I started planning adventures that involved hiking or paddling with my dog, with an end-of-day winery visit. Dog days on the lake!