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..