Established 1860 U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1
Visiting Pleasant Valley Wine Company is like stepping back in time, as it is the oldest bonded winery in the United States.
Located south of Hammondsport on County Route 88 in scenic Pleasant Valley, the winery has survived through the Civil War, Prohibition, and several ownership changes. All the while, it has continued producing world-class Finger Lakes wines and champagne.
European settlers found favorable growing conditions in the Finger Lakes in the 1830s and 1840s and began growing grapes that surpassed home growing capabilities. Charles Davenport Champlin and 12 local businessmen consolidated their holdings on March 15, 1860, in what was called "Articles of Association for the Manufacture of Native Wine." With $10,000 capitalization, they built The Hammondsport and Pleasant Valley Wine Company, the first winery in the Finger Lakes. It was designated as Bonded Winery No. 1 in its state and federal districts. The original winery carved caves deep into the hillside of Pleasant Valley for wine storage, which can still be seen today.
FIRST AMERICAN SPARKLING WINE TO WIN A EUROPEAN AWARD
During the Civil War, there was a shortage of supply and labor, as well as price increases and difficulties with transportation. In 1865, the winery invested in champagne-producing equipment. That year, twenty thousand bottles of Sparkling Catawba were produced, which was awarded honorable mention at the Exposition Universelle in Paris two years later, making it the first American Sparkling wine to win a European award. In 1873, the winery's champagne was awarded first prize and its first European medal in Vienna. Since then, the company's Finger Lakes champagnes have received many European medals and other awards.
Pleasant Valley came to be known as the "Rheims of America," due to the internationally-recognized excellence of its champagnes and the climactic similarities and soil conditions between the area and the champagne district of France. When the U.S. Postal Service opened a branch at the winery in 1870, it used the postmark "Rheims, NY" until 1945 when rural delivery took its place.
In March 1871, Mr. Champlin sent a case of champagne to his close friend, Marshall P. Wilder, a well-known wine connoisseur in Boston. He introduced it at a dinner party at the Parker House, calling it "the Great Champagne of the Western World." The champagne was then dubbed "Great Western."
NOTABLE ORDERS FOR PLEASANT VALLEY WINE
Shopping records from the 1860s-80s are filled with prestigious accounts, including S.S. Pierce, Macy's, Park Tilford, George F. Hueblin and Brother, Palmer House of Chicago, Parker House of Boston and individuals such as Professor Henry W. Longfellow of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pleasant Valley wines appeared on the lists of the most fashionable restaurants. They were even heartily recommended by doctors for their medicinal qualities.
These were exciting years at Pleasant Valley. Mr. Champlin and area businessmen built the nine-mile Bath to Hammondsport Railroad from 1872-1875. This was in effort to combat the price increases of canal transportation, and turned out to be both a successful business venture and a way to bring tourists to the area to ride the Keuka Lake steamers, such as Lulu and Urbana, at ten cents a ride.
To further the excitement, Glenn Curtiss made the first pre-announced airplane flight on July 4, 1908, directly below the winery entrance. Today, the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum attracts aviation enthusiasts worldwide to its spacious quarters across Pleasant Valley from the winery.
PROHIBITION SLOWS SPARKLING WINE SALES
When July 1, 1919, brought the enactment of Prohibition, the success of Pleasant Valley in selling more champagne in the first six months of that year than in any previous year seemed not to matter anymore. The Finger Lakes winery was left with a 70,0000-case inventory of champagne, and plenty of wine. It managed to survive the 14 years of Prohibition on sales for sacramental and medicinal purposes.
PLEASANT VALLEY WINE COMPANY TODAY
In 1995, having survived Prohibition and several ownership changes, the winery returned to local family control once again.
Today, there are eight stone buildings of Pleasant Valley Wine Company that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The winery is the largest producer of bottle-fermented champagnes in the eastern United States. Great Western Champagnes have been the most-honored American Champagnes in European competitions for over a century, and have enhanced the wine lists of some of the most prestigious hotels and restaurants in America.
The Visitor Center has a comprehensive wine museum with displays depicting how wine was made throughout the 1800s up to today. Pleasant Valley Wine Company was recently rated the "Best Winery Tour in New York" by Car & Driver magazine.