Tour the Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the Finger Lakes
Would you have guessed that the very first U.S. Bonded winery is in New York’s Finger Lakes region? And would you have guessed that they are known for sparkling wines? Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising given the recognition the region is receiving.
U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1
Pleasant Valley Wine Company, also known as the Great Western Winery, was the first U.S. Bonded winery and today is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The family-owned operation was first established in 1860 by the Champlin family and sits on a tree covered hillside about a mile from Hammondsport, New York on Keuka Lake. In its early years, the winery was recognized worldwide for its high-quality sparkling wines, even beating out French Champagnes in international competitions.
The Champlin family ran the winery until 1955, when they sold their interests. Pleasant Valley Wine Company was then purchased and taken public by The Taylor Wine Company. It was later acquired by The Coca-Cola Company, then Seagram and then Vintners International Company. However, after numerous mergers and acquisitions, the Doyle family acquired Pleasant Valley Wine Company and, in 1995, returned the business to its roots as a private family run operation.
Today the business once again operates as a family-business, producing premium sparkling wines and offers tours and tastings at it’s eight-building historic property. Having had the distinct pleasure to privately tour Pleasant Valley Wine Company a few years ago with owner, Mike Doyle, I say with confidence that this is a winery every Winetraveler should visit – if not just for the sparkling, for the incredible history, architecture and winemaking history.
Old World Style in West
Built into the hillside, Pleasant Valley Wine Company is styled similarly to old European wineries featuring exposed brick and decorative, rich-colored woods. You’ll find a surprising number of lancet archways, reminiscent of the Gothic era leading into hallways, former cellars and offices, and even Champagne glasses from 1890 on display. Private parties are often arranged among the winery’s many barrels of Port and Sherry or in beautifully adorned cave-like wine cellar.
The production facilities are equally impressive featuring 40,000-gallon red oak tanks, catwalks providing bird’s eye views and an overall capacity of over 14 million gallons. As you walk through this extensive winery, it’s almost as if each doorway leads to another production area, storage room or cellar, many of which are built into the hillside. In fact, from an outside perspective, you would never know Pleasant Valley Wine Company is an impressive 425,000 square feet!
As for its wine production, Pleasant Valley Wine Company has the largest plantings of vinifera varieties Chardonnay and Riesling in the East, and they are the largest producer of bottle-fermented Champagne in the eastern United States which has won the most European awards of any American Champagne. (And they can still officially refer to their sparkling wine as Champagne due to the 158-year history!)
Pleasant Valley Wine Company combines old world and American winemaking with a Finger Lakes’ joie de vivre. It is a Winetraveler must-see for its history, eye-popping production facilities and outstanding sparkling wine. However, the true delight of the experience is warm hospitality of the Pleasant Valley Wine Company team, and if you have an opportunity to meet with Mr. Doyle then it will surely be one of your favorite winery visits. Pleasant Valley Wine Company and the Great Western Winery Visitor Center is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday, January through March from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and daily April through December from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Best Finger Lakes Wineries to Visit Making Sparkling Wine
Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles…
In the area and like sparkling wines? Check out some of the Best Finger Lakes Wineries also producing outstanding Sparkling Wine options:
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery – Also situated on Keuka Lake and family-owned, vinifera vines including Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Rkatsiteli were first planted here in 1957. Now among the oldest in the U.S. the winery focuses on high-quality fruit to produce outstanding, complex wines. A visit to the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, is also steeped with history. In fact, four generations of history! Winetraveler tip: Try the Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs – or both!
Rooster Hill Vineyards – Sitting above Keuka Lake with vineyards sweeping down, Rooster Hill is a newer winery by comparison, established in 2000. While not known for their sparkling wines, they do offer a Sparkling Cider made from a blend of Greening, Northern Spy, Crispin and Baldwin apples. If you’re looking for something less traditional, this is a great option. Winetraveler tip: Don’t miss their dry red wines!
Lamoreaux Landing – On the eastern side of Seneca Lake, you’ll find the architecturally unsurpassed winery, Lamoreaux Landing. Here you can try their Brut, a traditional, méthode champenoise sparkler. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the stunning lakeside views.
Atwater Vineyards – Not surprisingly, you’ll find more jaw-dropping lake views at this Seneca Lake winery, in addition to a few sparkling options including a Blanc de Blancs, Bubble Riesling and Bubble Pinot Noir.
Damiani Wine Cellars – While the tasting room at Damiani lacks the views of Lamoreaux or Atwater, wines, featured local artists and an outdoor patio are all worth a stop. Here you’ll find a Brut and a Bollicine, like an Italian Prosecco. Winetraveler tip: Make sure to try Damiani’s outstanding dry red wines and stop by one of our favorite restaurants on Seneca Lake, the Stonecat Café – you’ll find sparkling on the menu here too!
Swedish Hill Winery – On the western side of Cayuga Lake, you’ll find a few options for sparkling wine including one of our favorite stops – especially if you have kids in tow – Swedish Hill. Not only do they have a beautiful property and numerous sparkling wines available, they also have Doobie the donkey. He’s the winery’s adorable mascot and is often seen out grazing in his paddock. Winetraveler tip: A great semi-dry option is Swedish Hill’s Blanc de Blanc.
Goose Watch Winery – Just six minutes from Swedish Hill is Goose Watch Winery. With a picturesque setting on Cayuga Lake, you’ll find the most captivating views from its picnic areas and boat dock. Goose Watch has numerous sparkling options available in their intimate tasting room. Winetraveler tip: We are very fond of the Pinot Noir Brut Rosé.
Hosmer Winery – Another six-minute drive south of Goose Watch on Cayuga Lake is Hosmer Winery. Another family-run winery, Hosmer was established in 1985 and focuses on making wine in the European tradition. The sparkling wine offered here is produced from the Cayuga grape and worth a stop on this route.