I visit this vineyard on the suggestion of my father. I have never really heard of the place before, and never drank their wine. Little do I know that the wine has a cult following — of which I am now a member. I’ve been drinking the wine and telling friends about the legend of Bully Hill ever since.
The Legend of Bully Hill
According to the pamphlet that Bully Hill distributes, Bully Hill Vineyards is owned by Walter Stephen Taylor. He is the 4th generation of his family to be involved in grape growing and wine making. Because the family has been either growing grapes or making wine since 1878, it is the oldest and most famous family name to be continuously associated with wine and grapes in America. Walter’s grandfather, at age 21, came to Hammondsport from a place near Oswego and took over the vineyard on Bully Hill. The vineyard consisted of seven acres and a little cabin. Taylor had purchased a new 80 acre farm in 1880 just up the road, where he continued his wine making and grape growing.
By 1920 the winery was rapidly growing and the family began buying native grapes from local vineyards. Due to space, electrical, and water limitations, Taylor purchased a winery two miles west of Hammondsport. As the years progressed, the family built the most successful, profitable, modern, and well-known winery in the world. By 1958, it became obvious that there was no way to control the quality of the family wines because, outside of Walter Stephen Taylor, there were no siblings interested in the wine business. Troubled by the threat to the quality of the wine, Walter Stephen Taylor bought back the original wine company on Bully Hill which had previously been sold.
In May 1970, Walter Stephen Taylor was fired from Taylor Wines because he and his father wanted to retain “honesty and integrity” on the wine labels, superior grape varieties, and higher quality wines. Just a few years ago, a new product was introduced in 1967 using the original wine formula, handed down from five generations. It was an effort to protect the quality and heritage of the Taylor wine-making name.
In 1977, the Taylor winery that had fired Taylor was sold to The Coca Cola Company. That same year, Coca Cola sued Walter Stephen Taylor and his family to prevent them from ever mentioning where they came from, who they were, the history of Bully Hill, or to use the name Taylor. A U.S. Federal Court ordered Taylor to publicly destroy all paintings, art work, poetry, and promotional materials that mentioned Taylor by name or described his heritage.
Ever since then, Taylor has made the statement “They got my name and heritage, but they didn’t get my goat!” his motto, which appears on many of his paintings, wine labels, t-shirts, and signage at the winery. And yet, when you look at his winery brochure and the signs on the buildings, you see “Walter S. [blank]” (with the word “Taylor” blacked out) all over the place, apparently to make fun of the Court order.
Today, Bully Hill wines and vineyards are touted as not using artificial irrigation, chemical tank car acids, concentrates, ion exchange/sodium, asbestos filters, pasteurization, tank car wines, or water and corn syrup.
During my visit to Bully Hill, I am given a tour of the Winery, and samples of their wine. Walter paints his own wine labels, and the array of different, colorful labels and varieties of wine is impressive.