Visit Keuka Lake Wineries: Cool History On A Shapely Finger Lake

WHY GO: Keuka Lake Wineries have quite the history: a history that changed the course of winemaking in the Finger Lakes Wine Region and throughout the USA. This country’s version of European wine grapes were first successfully cultivated here, although this area had been a “native” grape growing area for centuries.

Sunset on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport NY
Sunset on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport NY

Before Prohibition quashed the wine industry, many vineyards throughout this section of New York State turned out mostly ceremonial wine. Now, the “vinifera” renaissance in the Finger Lakes Region has been recognized by sommeliers at the best restaurants in New York City and elsewhere. 

But wine is not the only reason to visit Keuka Lake. It has an old fashioned “summer by the lake” vibe. At sundown, its southernmost town, Hammondsport NY, feels bathed in the 50’s and lost in time. Penn Yan – the Lake’s largest town up North, is the start of the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail (see below) Read on for our recommendations about the best Keuka Lake Wineries – and other attractions nearby.

Looking for more dreamy places to go with your honey in-state? Consult our Best Romantic Getaways in NY post.

Keuka Lake Wineries And More

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Keuka Lake NY
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Keuka Lake NY

VISIT: Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

You wouldn’t expect the genesis of European wine production in the Eastern United States to be so off-the-beaten-path. But over 70,000 people per year find Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery on a just-paved road above Keuka Lake.

Fred Frank, third generation owner of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
Fred Frank, third generation owner of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

Until the 1950’s, only native grape varieties  – Concord, Katoba, Delaware, Niagra – called Vitas Labrusca, could grow in this cold climate. But fine wine production took a quantum leap forward when Dr. Konstantin Frank, a PhD in viticulture working at Cornell Agricultural Experimental Station, began planting European vines here in 1958.

The cool climate, similar to Northern Europe, lent itself to Rieslings, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. Frank soon discovered that a pesky bug, Phylloxera, killed Vinifera roots but Labrusca roots still thrived.

Frank posited that by grafting Vinifera vines to Labrusca roots, he’d be able to grow European wines in the States. Cornell did not agree, but his theory caught the attention of neighboring Gold Seal Winery, and Frank was proven correct.

An Early Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Sauvignon, 1963 Vintage owned by Jeff Ingersoll of McCorn Winery Lodging
An Early Dr. Konstantin Frank Cabernet Sauvignon, 1963 Vintage owned by Jeff Ingersoll of McCorn Winery Lodging

Generous with his knowledge, Dr. Frank spread the word to neighboring states. Now, third generation Fred Frank runs the vineyard with his Winemaking daughter, Meaghan, fast on his heals. They’ve expanded the winery offerings to include the less expensive “value” label, Salmon Run.

The L.A. Times once rated Dr. Frank’s Reisling #1 in the world. Dr. Frank consistently wins Gold Medals in National and International competitions.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2013 Dry Riesling
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2013 Dry Riesling

And here’s a tip from an award winning winemaker. Some whites, like reds, age gracefully and improve and get more complex over time. Taste a couple of times a year just to make sure they are not turning.  “We’re still opening up Rieslings from the 60’s,” says Frank.

Come and sample away, and you’ll leave with some great history about the region and Dr. Konstantin Frank. Check website for tasting room hours.

Ravines Wine Pairing Keuka Lake NY

TASTE: Ravine’s Wine Cellar, Keuka Lake

Many would argue that the best place for dry wine lovers is Ravine’s, which has a non-producing cellar/tasting room on Keuka Lake.

For the ultimate tasting, go for the cheese/wine pairing – everything made right in this region. Ravine’s crisp Dry Riesling has earned high marks from Wine Spectator, managing to make the “Top 100” list for its ’09, ’12, and ‘14’s.

The Peppery Keika Village Red is a blend of Cab Franc and Noiret – a grape developed by nearby Cornell University. For those who want a sweeter experience, try Ayre – a honey-colored sparkling Muscat cooler that tastes like peaches. Perfect for après dinner.

TOUR: Bully Hill Vineyards, Hammondsport

The 40-year-old Bully Hill Vineyards is actually a massive hillside compound. it encompasses museums, a gift shop, an art gallery, two tasting rooms, a restaurant, and production area. Bully Hill, its motto “Wine with Laughter,” has a somewhat rowdy reputation. As such it draws a slew of bachelor and bachelorette parties, and has a back story to beat the band.

Bully Hill Vineyards Tasting Room mural NY

Walter Taylor’s family owned Hammondsport’s Taylor Winery, established in 1883. Walter was effectively sacked when Coca-Cola purchased the company along with the Taylor name in 1977.

Walter Taylor and Goat Bully Hill Vineyards Keuka Lake NY

In response, Walter opened his own Bully Hill Winery on original Taylor Estate property, bringing over cases of wines labeled with his name. Coca-Cola refused to allow the word “Taylor,” even on the labels’ small print. So, Walter held a “Black Out Party,” hiring 18-year-old Cornell Students wielding black markers to cover every single instance of his last name.

Still miffed, Walter painted the word “Taylor” on a live goat, paraded it through town, and dropped it off at Taylor/Coca-Cola’s front door to prove a point.

“Take the goat. You own my name. You own the goat,” he said. Or something to that effect. Coke didn’t take the bait. Dejected, Walter came home, stewed for a few days, and realized he had the perfect coined phrase: “Coca-Cola, you can take my name, but you can’t get my goat.”

That goat, named “Gilt Free,” is now on many a Bully Hill Wine Label, which features Walter Taylor’s own artwork as well. When Walter passed away in 2001, his wife and two sons took over the operation. One of the largest vineyards on Keuka Lake, it draws 150,000 people annually.

Walt Taylor Art Labels Bully Hill Vineyards NY

Come for the fun, for smashing views, and really good food. Chefs smoke meats (awesome brisket) right on site. Eeverything on the plate is straight from the farm fresh.

TASTE HISTORY: Pleasant Valley Wine Company

Established in 1860, Pleasant Valley Winery is the Finger Lakes oldest winery and U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1. It’s also known for its Great Western Champaign (yes, Champaign – the French designation was grandfathered in), first sparkling wine to win a top spot worldwide in 1867 (and still in production). Come for a historic tour of the caves and redwood tanks, and of course to taste.

Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake NY
Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake NY

VISIT: Heron Hill Winery

Sip top Rieslings and twenty other wine varieties inside a vast wine barrel at Heron Hill Winery. At least that’s what Heron Hill’s tasting room is built to look like. One of the most innovative buildings in the Finger Lakes designed by Charles Warren, the assemblage of architectural styles incorporates a barrel, a silo and other elements of the region.  

WINE TRAIL: Keuka Lake Wine Trail

For those who wish to hit up each and every winery around this little Finger Lake – follow this Keuka Lake Wine Trail map.

Cideries, Breweries, and Distilleries on Keuka Lake

Cider Creek Hard Cider NY

VISIT/TASTE/PLAY: Cider Creek Hard Cider, Canistio

From Hammondsport, you’ll drive about 40 minutes on breathtaking country roads, passing wind turbines, silos and farmland, climbing and descending hills, to get to Cider Creek Hard Cider. But once here, you’ll want to stay for a bit.

The setting is stunning.  Adirondack chairs pepper a patio overlooking a rushing creek. The humongous tasting/event barn features an industrial-funky interior, colorful mood lighting, barn-wood backed bar with reclaimed wood from the family farm, and a stone fireplace built entirely of rocks pulled out of the creek.

Tasting Room Cider Creek Hard Cider

Born locally, owners, Kevin and Melanie Collins lived in Boston where Kevin home brewed beer and established relationships with local breweries and wineries. His “real job” at the time was “in the Dental Implant business”.

Kevin’s father, “a surgeon by trade, and hobby farmer with 300 head cattle,” seeked to establish a business to sustain his 2,500 acres of land here. He settled on opening a cidery, which Kevin’s brother, Chip, operated.

Chip’s untimely death propelled Kevin to move back home to run Cider Creek. It was a good move.

Within three years, little out of the way Cider Creek medaled in every Hard Cider category worldwide, and in 2017 was the 3rd most awarded cidery on the planet.

Cider Creek gets its apples from local orchards. “We make Old World Cider with a New World influence,” says Collins, who uses ale and beer yeasts to create these award-winning drinks. “That makes it more versatile for beer and wine drinkers, too.”

There’s always something new brewing here. Fans find new favorites all the time. Queen of Tarts, Loganberry, Black-Eyed Peach, Cran-Mango and more are so, so easy to drink.  Cider Creek ciders are sold at Wegman’s and other large grocery stores in many US States.

Steuben Brewery Keuka Lake NY

TASTE/BEER: Steuben Brewing Co.

It’s all about the water at Steuben Brewing Co., where owner, Chad Zimar’s attention to detail is apparent in the final product. To whit – Zimar painstakingly blends hard and softened water to match what comes from the ground in Ireland for his Irish Red. Chad has enlisted his parents, Candy and Jim, to help him out where needed – a real family operation. Ask for a flight of four 4 oz. pours to try a few, then head outside on the deck overlooking Keuka Lake. Most popular – NY Pilsner, a light summer brew; Hometown Brown, best all around; and my personal favorite, DH (Toasted) Rice Pilsner.

Krooked Tusker Distillery Keuka Lake NY

TASTE/BOOZE: Krooked Tusker Distillery

Krooked Tusker’s got the hooch. And a great party vibe – with bartender concocting craft cocktails using freshly distilled QKA Kismet Vodka, Imbura Joe Vodka (infused with coffee), QKA Hooch, Hell Hound Hooch (smoked grains), and South Pultney Gin. It’s not your father’s wine-sipping crowd.

More To Do Around Keuka Lake

BOAT/JET SKI: Keuka Water Sports

The warmest of the three largest Finger Lakes, Keuka is usually calm and great for SUPing as well as boating. Rent jet skis, pontoon boats with slides, and other water craft at Keuka Water Sports.

Glenn Curtiss Museum: Cradle of Aviation, Hammondsport NY
Glenn Curtiss Museum: Cradle of Aviation, Hammondsport NY

VISIT: Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, Hammondsport

The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum curators have managed to assemble 25 full-sized aircraft, a couple of dozen automobiles, a good number of boats and countless bicycles and motorcycles in a 57,000 sq. foot former wine warehouse. It’s a veritable Smithsonian of early flight and experimentation, concentrating on the life, time and accomplishments of Glenn H. Curtiss, born in Hammondsport NY.

Glenn Curtis Museum, Hammondsport NY
Glenn Curtis Museum, Hammondsport NY

The “Father of Naval Aviation” (Curtiss sold the Navy its first plane) began his career racing and building bicycles and lightweight-engine motorcycles. On July 4, 1908, Curtiss flew the first publicly announced and witnessed flight (the Wright-Brothers’ puddle-jump was a private event) in his “heavier than air” aircraft, June Bug.

Glenn Curtiss photo from Glenn Curtiss Aviation Museum, Hammondsport NY
Glenn Curtiss photo from Glenn Curtiss Aviation Museum, Hammondsport NY

Curtiss palled around with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell; was considered the “Fastest Man on Earth” in 1907 when he reached a speed of 136.4 miles per hour on his motorcycle in Orlando, FL; built the Hercules, Marvel and Curtiss Motorcycles which at the time outsold both Harley and Indian combined; and developed the town of Hialeah, FL in 1921. He died from appendicitis at age 52 and is buried in Hammondsport. Daily 9 am to 5 pm May-Oct. Daily 10-4 Nov-April.  Check website for admission fees.

Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY
Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY

VISIT: Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport

Housed in the former Taylor Winery, the Finger Lakes Boating Museum celebrates an industry of yore. Before fine-winemakers, there were boat-builders. Dozens of companies, large and small, were situated all around the Finger Lakes. Penn Yan, Skaneateles (pronounced “skinny atlas”), Fay and Bowen, Thompson, Morehouse and many others produced beautiful wooden vessels that plied these long narrow bodies of water.

Make a Boat, Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY
Take a Boat-Making Class at Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Hammondsport NY

If you are at all interested in running your eyes over gorgeously crafted boats, or taking a class on boat building, or are just curious about old abandoned winery buildings, you’ll appreciate this museum.

On display are examples of iconic Finger Lakes boats. There’s a Ben Reno Keuka Lake Trout Boat with sloped stern to prevent fishing line from snagging; motorboats in three configurations – inboard, outboard and a combination of the two; a 1905 double-ended rowboat that looks like a canoe; a 1990 Dan Sutherland; and a number of steamboat models representing the boats integral to the development of the Finger Lakes.

Boat Builders around the Finger Lakes NY
Boat Builders around the Finger Lakes NY

Wooden-boat restorers work on small craft in a room where visitors can also take boat-building workshops to learn the ins and outs of measuring, forming and finishing (in canvas and silica wrap) a small dinghy from experts like famed boat builder, Patrick Smith.  Check website for times and events.

DO: Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, Penn Yan

This 7-mile long “outlet trail,” that starts in Penn Yan, has nothing to do with discount shopping. The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail runs along the “outlet” of Keuka Lake – the creek that connects Keuka to Seneca Lake. Local conservationists are attempting to keep Keuka Lake Outlet Creek pristine, inviting the public to  Fish, Hike, Bike, Horseback Ride, Snowmobile, or Cross-Country Ski along its wooded, creekside path.

PICNIC: Keuka Lake State Park

Of all the 11 Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake is not the largest, smallest or deepest. But it does have one feature that instills pride in all who live along its shores.  It has a “shape.” An organic, divining rod “Y” shape to be precise. Head to the waterfront Keuka Lake State Park on the East side of Keuka Lake for views of this shaped body of water and its vineyards. It’s the perfect place to take that just purchased bottle of wine, some cheese, and your best bae to share it with.

Where to Eat on Keuka Lake

EAT: Union Block Italian Bistro, Penn Yan

This charming little Italian spot wins kudos from locals and seasonal visitors.

EAT: Locals Love

Oak Leaf Cafe and Penn Yan Diner in Penn Yan. Timber Stone Grill and Park Inn in Hammondsport.

Where to Stay Near Keuka Lake Wineries

Pleasant Valley Inn Hammondsport NY

STAY: Pleasant Valley Inn, Hammondsport

This Pepto-pink roadside Pleasant Valley Inn is not situated on a lake or mountaintop. At the juncture of two busy streets several miles from the shores of Keuka Lake, it’s easy to whiz past the Pleasant Valley Inn on your way to the wineries.

But that would be a big mistake. After a recent change of ownership the Pleasant Valley Inn offers adorably decorated accommodations with breakfast for under $200/night. Unheard of in this area.

Rooms at Pleasant Valley Inn

Welcome Cookies Pleasant Valley Inn Hammondsport NY

Four rooms in a motel configuration – two on each side of a common hallway – are on the ground floor behind the restaurant. A huge jar brimming with signature Chocolate Chip Black Sea Salt cookies welcomes guests in the hall. They will, for sure,be gone by morning. Plus, there’s a Keurig Coffee Maker for odd-hours caffeine junkies.

Guest Room Pleasant Valley Inn Hammondsport NY

Though rooms are small, they are wonderfully designed. Mine had grey pattered carpeting, deeply hued walls, a cute pristine bathroom, and “Welcome” imprinted on one of many bed pillows. Bedding is fresh, crisp, and snuggly.

Dining at Pleasant Valley Inn

Under new ownership – Pleasant Valley Inn is now a private event and catering establishment.

Pleasant Valley Inn Breakfast

A complimentary “Continental” breakfast, for overnight guests, far surpasses most others. Just plucked berries, warm home-made bagels (yes, baked in-house) with fixin’s, decadent quiche du jour, and Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta is served buffet style – rather dangerous, as guests can have as much as they’d like. All rooms just $178 each plus tax, include a hot gourmet breakfast, parking, wifi.

STAY: Hotels and B&B’s near Keuka Lake Wineries

There are several dozen lodgings around Keuka Lake. Other recommendations include Keuka Lakeside Inn, Best Western Hammondsport, Blushing Rose B&B, and Moonshadow B&B high on a hill – all in Hammondsport. In Penn Yan, there are many B&B’s to choose from, including – but definitely not restricted to Los Gatos B&B and Laurentide Inn.


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

2 thoughts on “Visit Keuka Lake Wineries: Cool History On A Shapely Finger Lake”

  1. Oh yes! Haven’t been to Keuka before, but have enjoyed Konstantin Frank Riesling before. Need to put this on the list for a weekend getaway! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Made the Finger Lakes Region, Keuka Lake area, our place to retire. There is sooo much to do here during all 4 seasons. We traveled all around the country looking for a place to retire and the Finger Lakes has it all. Scenery is beautiful, wine is superb, and people are the friendliest.

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