Hunt Country Vineyards, Branchport, NY

Keuka Lake is home to so many fine wineries and breweries that you couldn’t possibly visit them all comfortably in one, or even two days. Having been a few years since we headed down this way, it was high time that we stopped at some of our favorites for the blog. Our first stop of the trip was Hunt Country Vineyards. We arrived early enough on a hot summer day, and received a warm welcome to the tasting room by Ann Kelly.

Hunt Country Vineyards’ tasting room overlooks the many acres of grapes that are grown by the Hunt family. You can also see the facilities further down the hill where the winemaking magic happens. For only $2.00, you can pick five different wines to sample. With a diverse selection to choose from, including a generous collection of dry wines, we opted for two tasting flights to share. This tasting fee is reimbursed if you purchase wine. While we tried mostly drier wines, please note that Hunt Country does make a few semi-sweet and sweet wines that are extremely popular.

Dry Riesling 2014
  • 0.2% RS
  • Crisp, apple and lime notes; excellent acidity and mineral aroma with a clean finish.
Unoaked Chardonnay 2015
  • 0.1% RS
  • Very clean, crisp apple nose, with noticeable chardonnay grape notes coming through beautifully thanks to the stainless steel aging.
  • 1.0% RS
  • Blend of unoaked Chardonnay, Cayuga White, and Pinot Gris
  • More of a grapey patio sipper for the summer.
Seyval Blanc 2015
  • 1.2% RS
  • Winner of multiple Gold medals in competitions.
  • Slightly perfumed and very easy drinking. A definite palate pleaser.
Cayuga White 2015
  • 1.3% RS
  • Hints of licorice, clean and flavorful. Would pair well with light appetizers.
Semi-Dry Riesling 2014
  • 1.5% RS
  • A more floral nose then the Dry Riesling, lots of honeysuckle and a well-rounded thick mouthfeel.
Valvin Muscat 2013
  • 2.2% RS
  • A Gold medal winner
  • Hints of grapefruit on the nose, a little spicy in the mouth. It doesn’t taste as sweet as I would have expected from the 2.2% Residual Sugar level.
  • 0.4% RS
  • Blend of Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Their top selling wine.
  • Light oak aging lends a pleasant not overbearing oaky nose. Hints of tobacco and cedar as well.
Classic Red
  • 1.5% RS
  • Blend of Corot Noir, DeChaunac, and Cabernet Franc
  • Juicy berry nose, sweeter than I expected. A decent table red to serve with pizza.
Hunter’s Red
  • 2.2% RS
  • Blend of Corot Noir, DeChaunac, Seyval Blanc, and Chambourcin
  • Aged in 100% stainless steel, this wine was a bit too sweet for me. Does have some interesting spicy notes though.
Cream Sherry
  • 14% RS, 18% ABV
  • Blend of Riesling, Cayuga White, and Cabernet Franc that was fortified with pure grape brandy prior to bottling.
  • Beautifully made, lots of raisin notes. Would be great in the winter by the fire.

I was pleased by the variety of styles offered at Hunt Country. The Dry Riesling is a great example of a wine that showcases the beautiful mineral aroma and flavor that the finest Finger Lakes Rieslings are known for. The unoaked Chardonnay was also of great interest as it showed off the beauty of the chardonnay grape in a highly structured wine that doesn’t let barrel notes intrude at all. I wish more wineries made an unoaked Chardonnay of this caliber. The reds were also well produced but I have to give a slight preference to the whites at Hunt Country. I would love to see the winemaker craft some single varietal red offerings as well.

Hunt Country Vineyards started selling wine back in 1981 under the name Finger Lakes Wine Cellars. The founders, Art and Joyce Hunt, are the fifth generation of the Hunt family to farm the land. By 1987, they officially formed Hunt Country Vineyards, whose logo combines Art’s family name and Joyce’s passion for horses. It is truly a family run business and their children are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. Hunt Country sits on a 170 acre farm but also sources grapes from other growers around Keuka Lake. One of the first wines they produced was their Ice Wine, making them the oldest continuous producer of Ice Wine in the United States. Since 2012, Hunt Country wines have received over 20 major awards in wine competitions across the country. The only wine on the tasting menu that they do not make themselves is the Chardonnay Champagne, a product of Pleasant Valley Wine Company at the south end of the lake.

The current winemaker, Brian Barry, was promoted to this position in 2015. Brian previously worked for Heron Hill Winery and Atwater Estate Vineyards. Jonathan Hunt and his wife Caroline have been working to make Hunt Country a leader in sustainable growing practices. They have installed a wind generator, a large geothermal heating and cooling system, and 348 solar panels which all greatly reduce their need for fossil fuels. You can read all about Hunt Country’s great work on becoming more sustainable here on their web site.

The tasting room is nicely laid out with plenty of counter space for when the crowds of summer visitors make their way in. The sale of non-wine products is not overbearing, with a small assortment of decorative items for sale. In their cooler, local cheeses and New York State beer are available to purchase as well. I even noticed that they produce and bottle a 100% Concord non-alcoholic grape juice but never had a chance to try it. By the time you read this, the Hunt Country Vineyards Café will have officially opened. This extension to the tasting room serves a selection of meals that revolves around local ingredients.

On an interesting side note, Hunt Country did have a winery dog, Gus, who recently passed away. The Bernese mountain dog is now commemorated with their wine Sweet Gus. A portion of the wine’s sales are donated to the local Humane Society. The winery loves dogs, and pets are welcome at the tasting room. Hunt Country even sponsors an annual dog walk every June!

At the end of our tasting and discussion, Ann presented us with one more wine to try, the Cream Sherry, and told us a story to go along with it. Ann’s heartwarming story about her first day working in the tasting the room was very powerful and I could tell how impactful an event this was in her life. The wine had a way of changing things and she hopes that other people might have a similar experience as well when trying the wine.

For Ann, Hunt Country is all about family and keeping things small without becoming a mega wine conglomerate. She also points out the unique products and prices of the wines. I completely agree with this since Hunt Country appeared to have some of the best value pricing of many wineries I have visited. With a great selection, fabulous prices, and charming people such as Ann in the tasting room, what’s not to like about taking a trip down to Hunt Country Vineyards?

Did you know that Keuka Lake is the only lake in the country that flows both north and south? Keuka Lake, the Iroquois word for “Canoe Landing”, was also known as “The Crooked Lake” by early settlers due to its unique Y Shape. While only about twenty miles long, it contains some of the best wineries in the Finger Lakes region. Grapes have been cultivated around Keuka since the early 1800’s, making it the first of the Finger Lakes to support the winemaking industry. You can look forward to more tales about Keuka Lake wineries in the future!

Hunt Country Vineyards

Hunt Country’s Facebook Page

4021 Italy Hill Road (County Rd. 32), Branchport, NY 14418

Visited July 3rd, 2016

Blog post written by Thomas Andersen.


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