Winery of the Year Keuka Spring Vineyards
This week I had the pleasure–not once, but twice–of driving across Keuka Lake to Keuka Spring Vineyards. (Actually, I drove around the northern end of the lake–I don't have a pontoon car!) On Sunday, it was to present the “Winery of the Year”award, and then on Thursday to witness Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul do the same..
Our annual New York Wine & Food Classic has two different top prizes: the“Governor's Cup” for single best wine out of about 900, deservedly won this year byBillsboro Winery 2013 Syrah, Sawmill Creek Vineyard; and “Winery of the Year” for the best overall showing in terms of consistent quality across the board, which deservedly went to Keuka Spring Vineyards.
Why? Their 2015 Gewurztraminer won Best White Wine (out of about 500). Out of the four different Riesling categories (Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, Sweet), they won two (Dry and Medium Sweet) despite the fact that there are many other Finger Lake wineries producing superb Rieslings. Their Celebrate white wine blend also won Best of Class, joined by many other Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.
Oh, and did I mention that a few years ago their Riesling won the Governor's Cup? This makes KSV one of very few wineries to win both top awards.
From my studio on Keuka Lake where I write this, I can see Keuka Spring Vineyards across the lake, high up on a hill with a commanding view of the “jewel of the Finger Lakes”. It wasn't always so. I remember very well, after they opened in 1985, their miniscule tasting room in the corner of a small barn on Route 54 south of Penn Yan. Frankly, I wasn't sure they'd be in business for long.
But Len and Judy Wiltberger, some of the nicest people you'll ever meet (they say it's because they're from Buffalo, where everyone is nice), had a dream which they have patiently and methodically pursued–expanding their vineyard, sourcing other grapes, focusing on quality, building a superb facility with a stunning view, and hiring great people in all phases of the operation. Cornell-trained winemaker August Deimel and his assistant winemaker Rachel Hadley obviously deserve a lot of credit as well.
On Sunday, the scene was a big party overlooking the lake, with the awesome band “Agonal Rhythm” (doctors and nurses playing out their musical dreams) and tons of loyal supporters basking in the warm sun and exquisite beauty of Keuka Lake while celebrating the accomplishments of their friends. They day before, Len and Judy had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They also showed me their first new label in 30 years " with a dramatic graphic of Y-shaped Keuka Lake–and introduced me to one of their granddaughters " named Keuka. Obviously they love this place as much as I do.
On Thursday, it was quieter and more intimate, but no less memorable. It was almost like a Buffalo reunion, with Len and Judy, Lt. Gov Hochul, and other nice Buffalonians in the audience who toasted their common hometown, and the Wiltbergers' success, with a glass of award-winning wine overlooking a gorgeous lake Life is good..