By Finger Lakes Correspondent Jason Feulner
All the talk recently about the party-like atmosphere at some wineries brings to mind Bully Hill Vineyards, a winery nestled on the hills overlooking the beauty that is Keuka Lake. This winery is a party destination that mixes a proud history, great bottle art, ample tastings and thong underwear.
The story starts with the Taylor Wine Company.
The Taylor family was one of the original wine producing families of the Finger Lakes. The Taylor Wine Company grew from a small 19th-Century family operation into a 20th-Century wine bohemeth. After being acquired by the Coca-Cola company in the 1970s, the Taylor brand was sold to Seagrams in the 1980s. Taylor is one of the major brand names that was conglomerated into the infamous Constellation Brands based in Canandaigua. The Taylor name currently adorns the bottles of wines that originate mostly in California.
Back to New York: After Coca-Cola's public takeover in the 1970s, legacy operator Walter Taylor was let go from the company and replaced by corporate management. Walter founded his own winery, Bully Hill, on one of his family's original vineyard sites on the eastern shore of Keuka Lake.
Walter was by all accounts an eccentric character. Bully Hill did not focus on American grapes or vinifera or hybrids: it emphasized all three. There are currently nearly 40 varieties of Bully Hill wine, with names ranging from Pinot Noir to Love My Goat. The winery has unique funky artistic labels for each wine, many of which are based on paintings by Walter himself.
Walter Taylor is no longer with us, but his zany and fun approach to wine and winemaking continues. Bully Hill has a huge tasting room, where employees pour very full samples of wine while engaging in a show reminiscent of Tom Cruise's Oscar-worthy performance in Cocktail. As the bottles get tossed about, the tasters are treated to a rehearsed history of the winery in lyrical form, thanking Coca-Cola profusely for suing Bully Hill in its early years which helped to help boost sales and name recognition.
As tasters are directed to browse the immense gift shop, the offical Bully Hill thong underwear is produced and flung across the tasting area. (Note: Interested LENNDEVOURS readers can purchase the underwear here). It's a tasting geared toward the college crowd, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and limos stuffed with revelers. Laughter fills the room during the entire performance.
It is easy to be critical of Bully Hill for numerous reasons, but I think the place is fun. The grounds and tasting room are gorgeous, the restaurant is good, and the museum and gift shop are really worth a look. The labels are fun to examine and make for one of the most colorful set of wine racks one has ever seen.
It's a shame that sometimes the Bully Hill party spills over into wineries that attract serious tasters (Dr. Frank's is right down the road). Beyond this obvious problem, Bully Hill is a unique place that reminds us that we should have a little bit of fun with wine and not always take it so seriously. While I might not recommend most of their wines for a store purchase, I'd encourage anyone to make a site visit who happens to be in the area.
Just please make sure that you have a designated driver.