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Mountain Home Magazine

Hunt Country Vineyards and Winery

by Laurie Mercer

The word terroir refers to the effect that the land and climate where grapes are grown have on the taste of the wine. When Art Hunt’s great, great, great-uncle started planting grapes on this farm, this was uncharted terroir, and yet fruit from those original vines of Concord and Niagara are still productive. This time of year, harvest time, is abundant in expectations and promises. To celebrate those expectations and promises, the Hunts started the Harvest Festival in 1989. Now visitors from thirty years ago return with families of their own. The horse pasture fills up with cars. Free standard tastings for five wines is considered one of the Finger Lakes’ best bargains. And who doesn’t love pairings done with both cheese and exotic chocolates?

The festival’s origins are found in a church-sponsored harvest event once held in nearby Branchport. When that was discontinued, Art and Joyce Hunt decided to step up and begin a Harvest Festival themselves. Some of the original church ladies came on board to sell tickets.

On the grape-filled vineyard that comprises Hunt Country Winery at 4021 Italy Hill Road in Branchport, the Hunt family has welcomed fall’s bounty for the past seven generations. This family-driven enterprise produces 12,000 cases of wine from twenty-one different varieties. They like to share along with clean air, fresh water, and nature-enriched soil.

Now, you can become part of the three-decades-long tradition on October 5 and 6 by helping the Hunt family harvest the joy at this year’s festival.

First, a bit more history.

In the 1970s, when Art and Joyce first began making wine here for friends and family, they perhaps didn’t realize what they had started. They eventually incorporated as Hunt Country Vineyards, and by 1983 their wines had won the Governor’s Cup, and they had had their photo taken with then-Governor Mario Cuomo. Hunt Country are founding members of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. The winery is a large producer of ice wine, which is wine made from painstakingly hand-picked frozen grapes and processed while the grapes are still frozen.

Hunt Country Vineyards has myriad methods in place to help maintain their goals of sustainability, including clean air, pure water, healthy soil, and a small carbon footprint. These include big stuff like the geothermal systems that provide almost all of the electricity for heat and cooling, nearly 350 solar panels on most of the larger buildings, and a prototype 1.2 kW vertical axis wind turbine. They lay down farm-grown hay for mulching the grape vines, have installed raptor bird houses (the kestrel is almost a signature bird here) and bat houses, maintain open fields to encourage pollinators, and have moved toward grape varieties that can sustain mechanical picking as well as exhibit the ability to adapt to climate change. 

The glacially deposited gravelly loam soil, sloping down to Keuka Lake, is enriched with about 100 tons of compost annually. The twenty-four acres surrounding the winery and tasting room are certified organic, and a section of grapes has been transitioned to organic production. The farm-to-table cafe features garden produce from their greenhouses and gardens. The place is also dog friendly—people can sit with their pooches and eat out on the deck. Hunt Country even has a red wine—Sweet Gus—named after a favorite dog. Their annual Dog Walk was organized to support local animal shelters.

A few things are new to the Harvest Festival this anniversary year. There are two new wines to taste—Reserve Cab Franc and Reserve Riesling—grown with an eye toward adaptability to climate change. At the biochar workshop you can learn how this charcoal-like substance is created during controlled burns of organic materials called biomass. Biochar shows promise in mitigating climate change, improving soil, and reducing waste following techniques cultured in the Amazon basin more than 2,000 years ago.

Fully electric cars—Teslas—will be well represented by the Tesla Club. The winery has new charging stations, and these eye-catching cars will be decorated in harvest-oriented themes. A replica of an original electric trolley launched in 1897 with Hunt family investors will be on display. It once ran from Branchport to Penn Yan to transport grapes, people, and other goods, thirty years before houses here had electricity.

During the axe throwing demonstrations, you can learn to hit the bull’s-eye in a manner similar to darts but with heavier projectiles. D.J. Kitzel will show visitors how to forage for natural materials and then use traditional hand tools to make rustic furniture. On Saturday, Wild Wings, an educational organization that helps injured and rescued birds, will demonstrate the important role that raptors contribute to a healthy planet. The Seneca Park Zoo’s zoomobile, with child-friendly animals, will help show visitors where the wild things are on Sunday.

There you have it. It’s like being invited to a family picnic. All you have to do is accept the invitation.

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