ON the way to a scholarly presentation of wine tastings terms, originally projected as the subject to fill this space this month, the unruly part of me that always pushes for quaffing wine rather than sipping it had a suggestion: "It's summer. Let's take a break and visit some vineyards."
There are, of course, several young vineyards in nearby Maryland and Virginia. Contact any of them to learn when visitors are welcome. But to find an almost unparalled spectrum of wineries ina single, highly scenic setting, I recommend a trip to Hammondsport, not far north of the Pennsylvania border in New York's Finger Lakes region.
Several miles of vineyards line the western slope of Lake Keuka at its southern tip. The vines stand in soldier-straight rows along wire guides, though the direction of the lines change to take best advantage of slope and sun. Other vineyards are visible across the lake.
This is the heart of New York's wine industry. About 30 million of the state's annual production of 38 million gallons - a quantity second in the U.S. only to California - comes from wineries located here. Tourists may choose to visit, among others, the Taylor Wine Co., the Pleasant Valley Wine Co. (Great Western), Gold Seal and Bully Hill Vineyards. All of these have tasting rooms, usually open each day except Sunday in summer, offer tours and sell wine as well.Bully Hill is only the site of a fascinating wine museum.
A fifth producer, small in size but of great significance, is the Vinifera Wine Cellars created in 1957 by Dr. Konstantin Frank. Telephone for an appointment.
An immigrant from Europe and a dedicated champion of vinifera, Frank is a darling of wine lovers because he was the first person to successfully encourage the riesling, chardonnay and other somewhat delicate European vines to survive the harsh New York winters and produce quality wines.
Hammondsport was making its mark as a wine center almost a century before Frank arrived, however. The "Hammondsport and Plesant Valley Wine Company" was organized in 1860. Its Great Western label survived Prohibition, and the firm remained independent until 1962, when it was purchased by The Taylor WIne Co., its neighbor only 100 yards away. Both wineries now belong to Coca-Cola.
So large are the Taylor facilities that Great Western - only about a third the size despite a capacity of 7 million gallons - appears almost homey by comparison.
The firms' wine-making operations are carefully separated. Taylor's "Lake Country" blends, moderately priced and sold rose in screw-top bottles, are well known and there is an excellent rose in the 28-product lines. In addition to its sparkling wines (the newest and driest is "Natural"), Great Western is proud of its Dutchess Rhine Wine, Diamond Chablis, a promising Seyvel Blanc that will come on the market this fall and De Chaunac, a vintage-dated, 1975 red hybrid.
Gold Seal's winery is located on the Keuka's western shore, north of Hammondsport. Like Taylor, this large firm (1 million cases a year) supplements its local production with wine from California. Gold Seal makes sparkling wines (a Blanc de Blancs is the best) and still wines ranging from catawba in red, white or pink to vintage - dated riesling and chardonnay.
Bully Hill stands - intentionally, its seems - in marked contrast to its larger neighbors. Located high above the lake in a commanding setting, the hand-built winery belongs to Walter Taylor, a descendant of the founder of the Taylor Wine Co. who is a writer and artist as well as vinter.
A bitter quarrel over the use of the Taylor name has led to a legal battle between the two. It is a strange contest, for Bully Hill yesterday production is only about 20,000 cases. The wines, hybrids and some vinifera, are made by Old World methods and are higher-priced than Taylor's.
In addition to wines, Hammondsport offers swimming in the lake and a musemum in the factory run by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtis.