3 Historic Wineries To Visit on Keuka Lake

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, Niagara, 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.

Pleasant Valley Wine Company

Pleasant Valley Winery on Finger Lake's Keuka Lake - New York State | Winetraveler.com
Pleasant Valley’s “Great Western” Sparkling Rose. Image via Greig Santos-Buch

Begin your tasting here, 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 Universalle in Paris for its sparkling wine. This was the first time an American sparkling had won any European award. In 1873, that same wine was award first place for sparkling wine at a competition in Vienna. It was declared to be the “Great Champagne of the Western World.” You probably know this wine today as Great Western Champagne.

Despite prohibition and a number of changes in ownership, Pleasant Valley has persisted and continues to make stellar wine on Keuka Lake. You can visit the winery through the year and take a tour of the facilities that includes a wine tasting. They also have a visitor center where you can learn more about their history within the region.

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While you’re there, I suggest trying their Great Western sparkling, as this is the wine that set them on a path to infamy. I personal like their Sparkling Rosé, which has a lovely nose of strawberry, melon and green apple, with a touch of sweetness and a bright acidity.

Dr. Konstantin Frank

Wineries on Keuka Lake Finger Lakes New York - Dr. Konstantin Frank | Winetraveler.com
Open June through October, savor Dr. Konstantin Frank wines with local cheese pairings on the 1886 outdoor terrace overlooking Keuka Lake. The terrace is located on the rooftop adjacent to the 1886 Reserve Room and offers a stunning view of the historic Dr. Konstantin Frank vineyards and Keuka Lake bluff. Learn more about how to visit here. Image via Greig Santos-Buch.

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 a number of experiences. You can visit the tasting room for a standard tasting through 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, I 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 a surprisingly high acidity and a soft tannin that produces a unique mouthfeel.

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 who 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 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. I 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. 

More Itineraries & Resources on New York’s Finger Lakes

5 Great Wineries To Visit on Seneca Lake If You Love Red Wine

9 Outstanding Wineries in the Finger Lakes if You Love Sparkling Wine

How To Spend a Relaxing Weekend in Aurora New York

Barnstormer Winery – A Unique Approach To Winemaking in the Finger Lakes

FLX Weinery – A Finger Lakes Restaurant Destination

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Kate Meyers Emery is a Finger Lakes wine evangelist, sharing the love and knowledge of her region through the classes she teaches and in her writing. She is the author of VinifeROC, a personal chronicle of her adventures in exploring the wines of New York, with a particular focus on Rochester and the Finger Lakes. Follow her wine adventures on Instagram at @kmeyersemery.

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