First in Wine, First in Beauty
At the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Region lies Keuka Lake, whose spectacular beauty and glacially-deposited soils inspired early grape cultivation and the birth of America’s wine industry in 1860. Today, wineries along the Keuka Lake Wine Trail craft some of the world’s most beautifully balanced and vibrant wines. You will find the winemakers, owners, and staff take equal pride in the warmth of our hospitality.
Established in 1985, the Keuka Lake Wine Trail is the perfect place for your wine holiday, offering the most diverse group of wineries of any destination in the Finger Lakes. Whether your taste is dry or sweet, fruity or austere, our vintages of Vinifera, Hybrid and Native wines are sure to please every palate. These cool-climate wines are particularly enjoyable with food. Food and wine pairings are highlighted during the Keuka Lake Wine Trail’s signature events throughout the year, as well as in select winery shops that sell locally made food items.
It is quite manageable to drive around the Keuka Lake in a day, still allowing time to stop at each of the unique seven wineries on the Trail. The striking overlooks, on-the-water restaurants, parks, antique barns and charming villages will encourage you to slow down – spend a few days and discover what makes the Keuka Lake Wine Trail different.
Keuka Lake History
The Keuka Lake watershed was settled by people almost as soon as the Ice Age ended, some 9,000 years ago.
Agriculture first appeared in the area nine hundred years ago with the Owasco people who brought the “Three Sisters” agriculture of interplanted corn, beans and squash. Early European explorers of the Keuka Lake watershed encountered the Iroquois, a group who are thought to have arrived five hundred years ago. The Seneca tribe of Iroquois remained in the area until they were driven out by colonists following the Revolutionary War. The Seneca called the area “O-go-ya-ga”, which translated as “the promontory” and probably referred to Bluff Point. Other sources claim that “Keuka” can be interpreted as “bent elbow”.
In the early nineteenth century, there was strong competition for most favorable locations for production and trade. “Summersite”, an alternative to early Penn Yan, grew up to the south of the Outlet along the lakeshore. In 1809, the first published reference to “Pen Yang” appeared in local papers. The name aptly represents the meeting of influences from Penn’s colony to the south and from the Yankees moving in from the east.
The 1830s were important years for Penn Yan and the lake. Penn Yan incorporated as a village in 1833, and in the same year the Crooked Lake Canal, which paralleled the Outlet, opened. Agricultural produce of the area could be floated through the 28 locks of the canal to reach Seneca Lake and the Erie Canal system. In 1836, the first vineyards in the Keuka Lake watershed were planted by J. W. Prentiss of the Town of Pulteney. In 1837, the first steamboat, the “Keuka”, began hauling passengers and produce on Keuka Lake. Traffic moved both north and south and produce destined for Penn Yan could be transferred to barges on the Crooked Lake Canal or to cars on the Fallbrook Railroad, which connected with the New York Central system. Produce carried to Hammondsport would be hauled by teams through Pleasant Valley to Bath where it would be floated down the Cohocton River on rafts or, later, loaded onto the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The steamboats were crucial for moving agricultural produce to market, and several more graced the waters of Keuka including: Steuben, George R. Young, Keuka, Yates, Lulu, Urbana, Farley Holmes, William L. Halsey, West Branch, Mary Bell, and the Cricket. Docks and piers were built in Penn Yan, Branchport and Hammondsport to move the produce from lake to land transport. Large icehouses at the ports stored ice cut from the lake used to cool shipments to distant markets. Several steamboats operated into the 1920s for tours and excursions, but automobiles and good roads replaced them for other purposes.
From 1840 until the turn of the century, there was a boom in the production of grapes, first for fresh eating and later for wineries. By 1900, more than 10,000 acres of vineyards producing 15,000 tons of grapes each year ringed Keuka Lake in a band half a mile wide and 50 miles long. In 1861, Charles D. Champlin established the first winery of the area, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company. Others such as Taylor (1880) and Empire (1896) followed.
The height of agricultural production occurred before the turn-of-the-century. There has been a gradual decline in agriculture since then, with only about half as much land worked now (approximately 31,000 acres). Obviously the vineyards and wineries were severely hurt by Prohibition and the Depression.
At the same time that agriculture was declining, tourism and recreational uses of the lake increased dramatically. In the 1850s, the old “Keuka” steamboat grounded south of Penn Yan was converted into The Ark, the first resort on the lake. In the 1870s, the first summer cottages were built on the lakeshore – some were accessible only by steamboat, others could be reached by roads or by the electric trolley running between Penn Yan and Branchport. The 1880s saw the growth of retirement homes on the lakeshore as well as the establishment of Keuka College, the Keuka Lake Sanitarium, and other spas. In 1885, electric power generated by the Outlet began lighting the Village of Penn Yan, and common usage had changed the name of the lake from “Crooked” to “Keuka”.
In the 1890s, competing steamboat companies carried more sightseeing passengers and less freight, numerous nature-study camps were established, and Electric Park, an amusement park on the Bluff, began operation.
After the turn-of-the-century, several industries sprang up in the Keuka Lake Watershed: Curtiss Aircraft in Hammondsport (1910) and Penn Yan Boat (1921). Glenn Curtis’ 1908 flights in Red Wing and the June Bug were made from the ice of Keuka Lake. The success of automobiles and the growth of a modern road system changed the way Keuka’s shore was developed. In 1938, NYS Route 54 was moved away from the eastern shore of the east branch to provide more room at the shoreline for residential development. Summer homes were constructed on the west sides of both northern branches, and several large tracts such as The Pines were subdivided.
There are no longer any virgin timber stands remaining in the watershed. The present forests consist of second-growth stands of the original species, with chestnut and elm missing as a result of disease, and locust and spruce added. Most of the remaining mature forests are on wet or steep sites. The forested areas of the watershed, especially on the steeper slopes to the south, provide many water quality benefits including stormwater retention and erosion control.
Keuka Lake is situated in the Finger Lakes region of New York State at an elevation of 715 feet above sea level. It is 19.6 miles long, 3/4 of a mile wide, on average, and has a surface area of approximately 18 square miles. Overall, it has been estimated that the lake holds approximately 379 billion gallons. Contributing to the water in the lake is a watershed that covers 110,000 acres spanning 10 towns and two villages in Yates and Steuben Counties.
Source: Keuka Lake Association www.keukalakeassoc.org