Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bully Hill Vineyards

Bully Hill can be a day in itself! Coming from Hammondsport it’s a long winding road up – and when you reach the top you’ll be impressed with the view overlooking the vineyards - you can see for miles to the north and south. (good picture spot!) Then as you enter the Bully Hill “campus” from the parking lot, look down on the path and you’ll see some goat footprints. Be sure to hear the story of Walter S. Taylor and the Goat. You’ll find that Walter was a bit outspoken and boisterous, but also a very creative and wise marketer. Hear more about why and how Walter managed to have the Taylor name taken off 72,000 bottles in 48 hours with the help of students from Ithaca College and some magic markers.

The “campus” consists of several buildings including a restaurant. Take time to explore the two gift shops, the self guided art museum and coopers shop, and of course the visitors center where you’ll get your tastings and be able to buy the wine. Tours take off from the visitors center. You’ll learn about the process of wine making starting in the vineyards, through pressing the grapes and bottling. So have some fun, get a bit of education and enjoy your stay!

Chateau Renaissance

Chateau Renaissance is at the southern tip of Keuka Lake - a bit off the beaten path. As you come up the drive - notice the sprite flying on the cork from a bottle of Champagne. "Corkie" was originally drawn by Patrice Demay's father (Patrice is the owner and winemaker here). As Patrice explains, sprites like Corkie work their magic in the middle of the night as they finish the work the artisians left behind. With good spirits, they also have a playful side like you see on the labels which Patrice has designed.

As you enter the chateau it's as if you are entering an old chateau in the hills of France where Patrice grew up. The walls are lined with beautiful old pictures that take you back in time. In the back room on any one day you'll see parts of the process in action. The Demay's have been in the winemaking business for over 400 years and Patrice continues to use the traditional methods in his winemaking. Patrice loves to share his stories - so be sure to ask him about dinners with the heads of France, or his trips to Union Square in New York City every Wednesday!

The specialties here include Champagne and fruit wines.

Crooked Lake Winery

Richard “John” Lebeck is proud of his newly finished tasting room. The 130 year old barn was originally a grape processing plant and still houses the 4 story pulley system that operated at the turn of the century. For the past two years John has worked on remodeling the barn. All the wood you see on the outside and inside (floors, trim, tasting counter) comes from trees in the front yard that used to block the view of the lake.

And the wines? John has been making wine for many years. Growing up in the Hudson Valley his summer job was working at the High Tour Winery. In the early 70’s John moved to the Finger Lakes and worked for Walter Taylor and Hermann Wiemer – both early pioneers for Finger Lakes wines. Today John is “having fun” as he and his wife Yvonne manage 26 acres of grapes and produce a range of wines from native and vinifera grapes.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars

Almost every winery I visited mentioned Dr. Konstantin Frank. A true pioneer for the Finger Lakes wine industry, Dr. Frank was a scientist who spoke five languages (not English) and introduced the process of growing vinifera (European) grapes to make this a world-class wine producing region! Today, in honor of Dr. Frank, only vinifera grapes are grown in the vineyards here. Though he didn’t get along well with his dad, Willy Frank (Konstantin’s son) brought a business side to the winery and gets credit for expanding to sparkling wines at Chateau Frank. Third generation Fred Frank is in charge now and continues to expand the vineyards to include ones on Seneca and Cayuga Lakes too. His teenage son, Konstantin (yes, named after his great grandfather) has grown up in the business – who knows what ideas he will have.

This tasting room can be lots of fun! The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and entertaining. It was here that I learned I could open a bottle of wine with the heel of a shoe. Really! I saw it work – but as yet, I have not perfected my skills (hard as I’ve tried!) Best known for their world-class Rieslings, be sure to try the other selections under the Dr. Frank, Salmon Run and Chateau Frank labels.

(That's Fred Frank and me in the picture)

Hunt Country Vineyards

Art and Joyce Hunt are the 6th generation to own the family farm. Neither can imagine working behind a desk, they enjoy working with their hands. Taking care of the land is important to them. Hunt Country is very visitor friendly. You’ll find the staff very knowledgeable and people oriented with lots of stories to share. Art laughs as he recalls winning their first gold medal in an international competition - thinking “wow – our wines are world class!”

Gus, their Bernice Mountain dog is the official greeter and has his own legacy in the wine named after him “Sweet Gus”.

At Hunt Country you’ll get a most informative cellar tour, but don’t expect a showplace – you’ll see whatever is going on that day.

Keuka Overlook

Keuka Overlook is a small winery with the wine tasting room in the cellar of a refurbished barn – a wine cellar that truly is in the cellar! Bob Barrett, the owner, considers wine making a craft and prides himself on hand-crafted wine – using an original 6 spout filler, hand corking, hand labeling each bottle and adding the capsules using the old tea-kettle method. Over 45,000 bottles each year!!

If you get a chance (and there’s an opening) be sure to check out the winemakers’ weekend getaways from January to May. You’ll stay in a lovely restored Victorian home and enjoy great food and wine along with an education and lively conversation. Bob and Terry have been hosting these dinners for over 12 years and have a complete photo album to share.

Keuka Springs Winery

Here’s the spot to take a little break and enjoy the beauty of Keuka Lake from the stone terrace as you sip your wine. As you come up the drive check out the vineyards on your right and the large 1920s casks along the walkway. Once in the tasting room and gift shop you’ll notice more articles of the past – one wall is from the 1940’s Great Western Winery and old champagne racks make up the bar.

Though they don’t offer tours, they do like to answer questions! Keuka Springs is family owned and operated and the personal touch truly shines here. As Len and Judy Wiltberger, the owners, say, ”we have a great staff, we’re just blessed, people can expect to have fun and learn about wine.”

1985 marked their first vintage. All four wines that year received medals – two of them gold! Since then they have grown to nearly 20 different medal winning wines with a range from dry to semi-sweet. Len and Judy’s four children have grown as well and contribute to the success of the business. Jeanie has a degree in horticulture from UC Davis (one of the best schools for the industry) and is in charge of the website and promotional side. Oldest son Mark has taken on the lead role of winemaker. The other two sons provide their input from afar in North Carolina.

Naming the wines is important too. Taking great care and effort it’s like naming a child. There’s Millers Cove Red named for the view of Millers Cove, Celebrate from the millennium and many others. Choosing from a range of gold, silver and bronze medal wines, along with a knowledgeable and hospitable staff makes your tasting experience one to enjoy!

Pleasant Valley Wine Company

Pleasant Valley Wine Company, also known as Great Western Winery was the first winery in the region and bears the designation as “Bonded Winery No. 1”. Starting in the visitor center you can get a taste of history in the self-guided museum. I recommend taking the 45 minute guided tour though to learn all about the history and wine making process. You also get to explore the beauty of eight buildings that are listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and learn how Great Western got it’s name.

Starting the tour at the Visitors' Center, a van take you to the processing plant. See the processes used for champagne, sherry and wine. Did you know this winery if the largest producer on the east coast for bottle-fermented champagnes? In the tank room you’ll be surrounded by the smell of grapes fermenting and awed with the size of the 42,477 gallon tanks (almost 9500 bottles of wine are in each tank!) Back in the tasting room at the visitors’ center be sure to check out not only the champagnes but I enjoyed the Chocolate Lab - a blend of Labrusca (Concord) grapes and Chocolate – a liquid dessert!

Ravines Wine Cellars

At the young age of fifteen Morten Hallgren was living in Copenhagen when his parents asked the children if they wanted to move to France, where they had recently vacationed, and own a winery. All four children said yes – and a few weeks later Morten started learning about vineyards and winemaking. Later Morten graduated from Ecole Nationale SupĂ©rieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier (one of the top winemaking schools in the world) with degrees in Enology (the science of winemaking) and Viticulture (the science of grape growing).

Years later, after working at the Biltmore Estate (America’s most visited winery) in North Carolina – Morten visited the Finger Lakes and was sold! Recruited by Willy Frank (of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars), Morten eventually spun off on his own to open Ravines Wine Cellars (named for the 2 ravines the land is nestled between). The charming tasting room has a flavor of France and provides a beautiful view of Keuka Lake.

Using traditional methods of European winemaking, Morten’s focus is on the dry whites although he does know his customers and provides a few options for those that like the sweeter side of wine. This is a dream come true for Morten and his wife Lisa, who provides the food pairings at all their events.