Upstate New York's Finger Lakes Region is home to waterfalls, lakes, gorges, and over 100 wineries. With a landscape that mirrors Burgundy, this verdant region is attracting an increasing amount of attention and a growing number of bus-tour oenophiles. Now, trips to the region can be a bit more intimate thanks to Winewagen Tours, a small-business – exactly the size of a Volkswagen bus to be precise – run by Zach and Laura Cutlip.
The Winewagen – a 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia – is Zach's brainchild and labor of love. He bought the van a couple of years ago and has renovated the interior for comfort while keeping the integrity of the aging bus experience. The two brown, vinyl-covered bench seats face each other and can seat six. Cutlip has covered the door panels and replaced the headliner with golden-stained birch veneer, giving the inside of the bus a rosy glow that nicely complements a buzz.
Zach tends to play Grateful Dead tapes as he drives between the wineries, following custom itineraries. And the Winewagen attracts attention from winery staff as well as drinkers, which makes free pours and personal attention one of the perks of being a passenger.
The van zigzags through a lush countryside dotted with Greek Revival farmhouses and vineyards crawling up and down gentle hills. Among the excellent vineyards – Buttonwood Grove, Goose Watch, and Cayuga Ridge are all worth visits – distilleries that make smooth, organic gin, crop up (try Myer Farm, in Ovid). And every business has a cast of characters. Bill, a retired-postal worker, pours us some fine wine at Goose Watch. His black Arlo Guthrie T-shirt, wire rim glasses, and cut-off jeans give him away: He likes the bus and the soundtrack.
More information: Winewagon Tours operates year-round. Rates are $375 for a six-hour day, which includes tax and tip, or $62.50 per hour. Discounted rates on weekdays or last-minute tours. See FingerLakes.org for information about the wine trails and recommended places to stay and eat in the area.