Keuka Lake may be one of the smaller Finger Lakes, but it has the longest history in winemaking. The first record of successful wine production in Upstate New York comes from William Warner Bostwick, an Episcopal minister who was living in Hammondsport, a small village at the southern end of Keuka. He recorded in 1829 that he was beginning to cultivate Vitis labrusca, the fox grape, which is the source of many native cultivars like Catawba, Concord, and Niagara, for the production of wine. Since that moment, Keuka Lake has been one of the major forces in setting trends not just for the Finger Lakes, but for the United States as a whole.
Today, we’re covering 6 of the top wineries worth visiting on Keuka Lake for their history, unique experiences, and exceptional wine. These wineries can be accessed easily in a self-guided fashion by renting a car, offering beautiful views along the way. You can browse some of the current top deals on hotels in the area here.
Alternatively, Crush Beer & Wine Tours offers a guided wine tasting day trip to Keuka Lake. This is a grape (yes, we said it) way to explore the region from a local’s perspective. In addition, they offer hotel pickup/drop-off and the option to include lunch between visits to 4 different wineries.
Now, on to some of our favorite historic wineries to explore around Keuka Lake:
Top Wineries to Visit on Keuka Lake
Pleasant Valley Wine Company
Begin your tasting at Pleasant Valley Wine Company. It was one of the first commercial wineries to open in the Finger Lakes and the only one that is still producing wine today. Founded in 1860, Pleasant Valley immediately began producing world-renowned wines using native grapes like Concord, Catawba, and Niagara.
In 1867, something incredible happened to this small, little-known wine company- it won honorable mention at the Exposition Universelle in Paris for its sparkling wine. This was the first time an American sparkling wine had won any European award. In 1873, that same wine was awarded first place for sparkling wine at a competition in Vienna. It was declared to be the “Great Champagne of the Western World.” You may recognize this wine today as Great Western Champagne.
Despite prohibition and several changes in ownership, Pleasant Valley has persisted and continues to make stellar wine on Keuka Lake. You can visit the winery throughout the year and take a tour of the facilities which includes a wine tasting. They also have a visitor center where you can learn more about their history within the region.
While you’re there, we suggest trying their Great Western sparkling, as this is the wine that set them on a path to infamy. We also suggest sampling their Sparkling Rosé, which has a lovely nose of strawberry, melon, and green apple, with a touch of sweetness and bright acidity.
Dr. Konstantin Frank
Due to the climate, commercial growers were convinced that European vines could not grow in the Finger Lakes, a myth that was busted by a Ukrainian immigrant named Dr. Konstantin Frank. In 1951, Frank moved to the United States to work for the Cornell University Geneva Experiment station. He began experimenting with growing his own vines; he believed that if European varietals could grow in Ukraine, a much colder region, then they must be able to grow in New York. He grafted the European varietals onto hardy native rootstock and was successfully able to grow them.
In 1962, he opened a winery on Keuka Lake and began producing Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, the winery is named after him and is run by the third and fourth generations of his family, who continue to experiment and innovate.
This winery is a must-do when you’re on Keuka Lake as they offer several experiences. You can visit the tasting room for a standard tasting of their wines, you can book one of their 1886 Room tasting experiences where you’ll try wine and food based around a theme, or you can enjoy wine and cheese on their terrace overlooking the lake.
While you’re there, beyond trying their fantastic traditional method sparkling wine, we suggest trying some of the unique varietals grown on site. The Rkatsiteli has a fascinating nose of pear, citrus, chamomile tea, and fresh green herbs. Its textural feel is balanced by a crisp and light acidity.
Another interesting wine to try is their Saperavi, richly purple in color, the nose is fruit forward with berry and plum, followed by baking spices and smoke. It has surprisingly high acidity and a soft tannin that produces a unique mouthfeel.
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Bully Hill Winery
As wineries around the Finger Lakes were attempting to grow European grape varietals in the 1970s, Walter Taylor was stirring up controversy by challenging the increased use of non-local grapes and the lack of transparency in the winemaking process. Taylor, whose grandfather established Taylor Wine Company and was at the time the Executive Vice President of that winery, spoke out against these practices as they occurred in his own family’s company. He was fired and began his own winery under the name Bully Hill Winery. He focused this winery on 100% New York juice, with a focus on producing ‘honest wine.’
Bully Hill’s infamy, however, came when the Coca-Cola Company bought Taylor Wine Company. In order to preserve the brand, Coca-Cola filed a lawsuit arguing that Walter Taylor could not use his last name on any of his products as it violated their trademark. Taylor lost, but the lawsuit solidified Bully Hill in wine history as the honest winery that fought the national brand.
Today, you can visit Bully Hill Winery, do a tasting in their winery, tour the property, eat lunch at their café, and visit their museum.
Looking for more wineries to explore on Keuka Lake?
The New York Farm Winery Act of 1976 was a law set in place to allow grape growers in New York to establish wineries and sell directly to the public. This led to an explosion of new wineries over the next decade, including Keuka Springs Vineyards, which opened in the early 1980s and continues to create award-winning wine in a range of classic and innovative styles. We strongly suggest tasting their reds, which are all unoaked and fantastic.
If you’re looking to end your history tour with something new, check out Weis Vineyards, where they are producing some of the best German-style wines in the region. For a bonus, visit Domaine LeSeurre, located just behind Weis, which will offer a fun comparison as they produce French-style wines.
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Keuka Lake wineries, things to do near Keuka Lake: Finger Lakes itinerary
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