Wine, burgers, art and a lesson in fierce perseverance: Finger Lake’s Bully Hill Vineyards

It’s an undeniable truth that going against the tide — and sometimes, doing the right thing requires just that — that people may think you’re weird, you might have a big fight on your hands and it may change your life forever. But if you create beauty in all forms that survives the decades — simple, complex, practical, abstract — I think it can safely be said that you “won”. Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport, NY was founded by Walter S. Taylor, a descendant of the founders of Taylor Wine Company. He eventually lost the right to even hint that he was a member of the family!

At one point, Coca Cola bought Taylor Wines. Then, they started cutting corners, using California grapes in what was supposed to be the pride and joy of New York State. Walter strongly decried this. Coca Cola execs and some Taylor relatives on the board of directors told Walters to resign or be fired. Do you have relatives who would do this to you? I absolutely do! Walter always prided himself as a sort of New York-American cowboy, wearing overalls and a cowboy hat. He was also an indefatigable badass. He took some family land at Bully Hill and eventually started bottling wine. The injunctions came a’flyin’. When he was prevented from using his name commercially, he held a huge parade in town, proclaiming, “They have my name and heritage, but they didn’t get my goat.” Thus, the goat became a mascot for the Bully Hill brand. Walter was thrown out of his country club and the Hammondsport Episcopal Church.

Walter was also a very accomplished artist, with a colorful and highly fraught style. It reminds me of the work of Ralph Steadman, illustrator for Hunter S. Thompson. Walter became an official artist for NASA. Even after quasi-retiring, fate still threw him more to face: in 1990, he was in a car accident and became a quadriplegic for the final 11 years of his life.

So, Bully Hill has become a destination in itself! Wine-wise, they’ve got wine tastings and tours (at certain times of the year). At their restaurant, open for lunch, you can order a number of the Bully Hill wines and even wine cocktails. They’ve got locally produced soft drinks, too. There are plenty of canopied tables to enjoy the gorgeous views.




If you’re a BBQ person, they have their own smoker using local applewood, smoking meats for 16 hours.

But I just had to take them up on their menu challenge: The Skeeter (ribeye, shortrib and sirloin) burger. They call it “crazy good”! Well, a lot of menus put in a lot of what we lawyers call “puffery”. I’m happy to say, their burger is crazy good! I mean, just look at it! You can pick from a number of sides, but I picked (Syracuse style) salt potatoes — a local thing. They’re boiled, brined potatoes.

After your sip ‘n’ nosh, their museum is right there. I love seeing vintage menus from important occasions. I like knowing the history of fine dining.



I also feel like I gained insight into Walter S. Taylor, seeing his art. You’ll just have to go there to view it!

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