Best-Kept Secret
Best-Kept Secret

We're excited to bring you another blog highlighting one of the "best-kept secrets" featured in the 2012 Steuben County Travel Guide! Check back the fourth week of every month this year to read more about the gems we've found in Corning & the Finger Lakes! To request your free copy of the Travel Guide, e-mail our Sales and Office Assistant, Kevin Peterson, or call 607.936.6544.

Pleasant Valley Renata Stiehl
Pleasant Valley Renata Stiehl

A visit to Pleasant Valley Wine Company is like taking a stroll through the past. Named the Best Winery Tour in New York State, Pleasant Valley Wine Company has eight gorgeous buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walking through them - seeing the history they hold - it's like something out of a dream. It's hard to describe the way your senses come alive when the door opens to the building that houses giant barrels filled with fermenting wines. The sweet smell drifts towards you before you turn the corner and stop in your tracks. The sight of wine barrels taller than homes is enough to amaze just about anyone. Reading the capacity on a steel barrel, seeing it holds 99,398 gallons of wine, and realizing that would fill 502,010 bottles, is really quite astounding!

Courtesy Pleasant Valley
Courtesy Pleasant Valley

Pleasant Valley Wine Company was established in 1860 as the first bonded winery in the United States, meaning it was the first winery to be recognized by the US government. The winery survived through momentous periods, including the Civil War and Prohibition. One of my favorite stories told on the tour is that during Prohibition, the winery continued to sell sacramental wine, as well as grape juice with detailed instructions about how NOT to turn it into alcohol. Clever!

After the winery started producing champagne in 1865, it began winning awards for its excellent Sparkling Catawba. In March 1871, Charles Davenport Champlin, a Hammondsport businessmen, sent a case of champagne to a close friend and well-known wine connoisseur in Boston. Marshall P. Wilder introduced the champagne at a dinner party, calling

Pleasant Valley Renata Stiehl
Pleasant Valley Renata Stiehl

it "the Great Champagne of the Western World." The champagne thus became known as "Great Western:" a title you'll still hear today. Great Western Champagnes have been the most-honored Champagnes in European competitions, and Pleasant Valley continues to be the largest producer of bottle-fermented champagnes in the eastern United States.

The winery has changed owners many times, but was returned to local family control in 1995.

That's the history in a nutshell. Pleasant Valley has an impressive list of accomplishments. It looks great on paper - and even better in person! There's nothing quite like standing in the sherry cave, engulfed in sweet aromas, blown away by the sight of so many barrels. Walking into the elegant, former tasting room - complete with gorgeous chandelier hanging from the ceiling and Steuben Crystal adorning the wall displays - takes your breath away.

Pleasant Valley Courtesy Stu Gallagher
Pleasant Valley Courtesy Stu Gallagher

And then you get to taste the wines! The new tasting room is located in the Visitor Center across the road from where the tour takes place. The wine list is extensive and the tasting experience is quite educational. Want to try a dessert wine? You'll get a lesson while it's being poured. Knowing the process it takes to produce what you're drinking certainly helps you appreciate it more as you sip away.

After your tasting, make sure to explore the extensive wine museum found in the Visitor Center. You'll learn all about the

Pleasant Valley Renata Stiehl
Pleasant Valley Renata Stiehl

production of wine - what's changed and what's stayed the same - throughout the 1800s up to today.

Once you've experienced the majesty of those old buildings and you've heard about the winery's hardships and victories throughout the ages, you'll gain a deep appreciation for not only the wines, but this historic winery, itself. I took a group of journalists there recently. Many of them had lived in the area for years, but had never been to the winery. One of them commented, "How did I not know this place existed? It was like a European castle." Once you've experienced it for yourself, I assure you, you'll feel the same way about Pleasant Valley Wine Company: one of Steuben County's best-kept secrets.

* All Photos Courtesy of Renata Stiehl, except where specified.