Tending grapevines didn’t interest Peter Oughterson when he was a teen, but he plugged along anyway to help his father and various neighbors with their Seneca Lake vineyards. Later, as a recent Cornell University graduate in the mid-1980s, Oughterson gave the profession a second chance by signing on to manage a startup vineyard on Long Island.
After supervising table-grape harvest crews across the country and then working for Seneca Lake-based Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Oughterson got the itch in 2001 to open Hickory Hollow and Highland Wine Cellars in Dundee, Yates County. At the time, he had just $7,000 in his checking account.
Producing 7,000 cases annually, Oughterson now markets roughly 18 wines bearing either the Hickory Hollow or Highland label. The Seneca Lake fruit he works with comes from 18 acres of vineyards owned and managed by his sister and brother-in-law, whose holdings include Niagara vines dating back to the 1880s.
Options in the tasting room include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Cayuga White, the last of which Oughterson calls his “workhorse” since the grape figures into all of the winery’s sweet blends and stands on its own as a varietal wine.
To ease the pressure of production, several Finger Lakes wineries rely on the mobile bottling line Oughterson owns and operates. Housed in a tractor trailer, the setup bottles, seals and palletizes wine and has the flexibility to handle small runs of multiple products. When a winery has dozens of products to bottle in just a few days, preparing the equipment for each run feels like being part of a NASCAR pit crew, Oughterson says.
Though he was tepid about grape growing and winemaking as a kid, Oughterson has no regrets about giving the profession another chance.
“It’s always nice to be able to be in control of your own destiny by seeing the product through,” he says.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, from April 15 to Nov. 30. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, from Dec. 1 to April 14. Reservations required for groups of 14 or more.
Tasting fee: $2 for six samples. The tasting fee is refunded if a purchase is made. Use the $2 refund token after the tasting or save it for next time.
Accessibility: Fully accessible.