Generally, I am quite long winded in my posts, but on this occasion, I am going to REALLY try to keep the words to a minimum and the photos to a maximum. After all, this story was a very visceral adventure for me and I hope it will be for you too.
In 2011, I signed up for, attended, and won first place in my very first art show in a small town in the finger lakes region of upstate New York called Hammondsport. I met and discussed my art with many amazing people at that show and more than a few of them had some great suggestions for places to shoot in the area. Once place continued to reverberate time and time again and that was the old Pleasant Valley Winery just outside of town. Now I had driven by this many times and to my understanding it was completely or at least partly abandoned. But, the place was locked up tight and I am not one for weaseling my way in unless the door is already wide open. So one day that November while shooting the sights around the lakes I suggested a friend that I was shooting with that we go check the place out and at least shoot these big amazing wooden doors that I remember. So we take a drive up and to our amazement, the buildings are covered in grape vines and they are all in autumn colors! Being late November, I thought for sure that all the autumn colors were gone. Much to our surprise, that was not the case at all. Here is a shot of the old Taylor building, now owned by Mercury Aircraft.
On the front of the building are these amazingly detailed old world oak doors.
There was also this incredible landing detailed in wrought iron. The color was just spectacular here.
That was the extent of the shoot for the day. After all, this was just a stop over visit on a much larger journey. Through my observations while there, I did notice that there was a light on in one of the upper story windows. Odd, for being abandoned, but it got me thinking.
Now before I continue, I need to fill you in with a little back story. (I said this was going to be short right??)
Back when I was a kid in school, (ed; here we go) we used to always do one or two big field trips a year. These were usually to big factories in the area or something similar. One year early in my school days we field tripped to a winery saw how wine was made and bottled. At the end of the tour, we were all led to a wine tasting area, and of course the adults got to taste the best wines the winery had to offer, and the kids got that special “Grape Juice” wine. The sights and smells of the winery were amazing. It wasn’t long after telling the story to my family that they started going on the tours every year and carting me along. One particular favorite that we visited many times was the Taylor, Great Western Winery in Hammondsport. The winery is better known now as the Pleasant Valley Winery. I think it is one of the biggest if not the biggest in the region. The entire place was built into the side of the hill and caves where dug out of the shale to keep the wine stored at a constant cool temperature. Giant vats, old Italian styling, just an amazing work of architectural art.
Over the winter of 2011-2012 curiosity got the best of me and I began to hunt down the history and owner of US Bonded Winery #1, The Pleasant Valley Wine Company. It didn’t take too much to searching find the company owners name and email contact. I shot out an email and made contact with a Mr. Doyle at the facility, explaining who I was and what I did and he kindly returned contact the next day. He invited myself and my trusty friend Lou from Mach III Photography to stop in and have a chat. With a date set, Lou and I packed our gear and headed out to the fingerlakes.
After about an hour of driving we arrive at the foot of beautiful Keuka Lake and the small town of Hammondsport. Just 5 minutes outside of this little hamlet lies our destination. We drive up the steep embanked drive and find a parking space out front. Only one other car dots the parking lot. We grab our gear and head in.
The entrance is barren and sparse yet still very inviting. Upon entry we are instantly taken back. The entrance office is spectacular, like an old church. A temple to the wines and champagnes of the past and present. Vintage bottles dot the room along with old accounting books, truly time traveling realized.
“Hello? Anyone here?” After a few moments a secretary pops her head around the corner and invites up a flight of stairs and leads us to a back office. I mean, if you want to call it an office.
After a few anxious moments the man himself, Michael Doyle, makes his entrance. An older gentleman, nicely outfitted in a dress shirt greets us with a warm confident smile. “How are you boys today?”, he says. Mike pours us some fresh brewed coffee and proceeds to fill us in on the history of this old complex and his equally if not greater personal history with it. The complex’s history can be found at the link at the end of this article. We finish our coffee and Mike says, “Come on boys, I’ll give you the brief tour”. He takes us around the loop, of the complex just to get a layout. We stop briefly to talk with some of the production workers there and acquaint ourselves so they know who the strange dudes with the cameras are. While we are making small talk, Mike of course is tending to business dealing out complex ratios and formulas to his workers. We make our way back to his office where he pauses briefly and then cracks the door for us. He says with a smile, “Well there you go boys, now go get lost. I’ll let you out in 3 or 4 hours.” WOW, we can’t believe it, free run of the entire place. This was truly an amazing and generous man! I swear I felt like I was 12 years old again when he said that to us. Little did I know, this was not the only time I would feel that way today.
Now would be a good time to grab a coffee and settle in. (ed; So much for being a short post)
From there we head up a maze of stairways and finally make our way to the tour entrance of the main building. Nothing from the 1970’s has changed here. It is truly remarkable.
All the old wine casks are here. Back in the day these would all be full of aging wine. Today, the process is different and these casks stand as a memorial to those days.
We find an exit at the end of the hall and cross over from the main building to the wine manufacturing buildings. Even the external construction of these buildings are works of art.
Just before we enter the wine storage entrance we notice this old bell on a post. Mike said this was the “Soup Bell” and was used to let the workers know when “Soup’s On” during the work day.
Upon entering the Wine storage building we inundated with the pungent and time warping smell of fermenting grapes. Instantly I was rushed back to that field trip day. As I turned the corner I was greeted by these 44,000 gallon plus behemoths, like a giant man made redwood forest.
These giant redwood tanks are built by the Arrow Tank Company Inc., in Buffalo, NY which is still in business today. Scattered among the decommissioned Redwoods are the less impressive, though equally huge metal tanks. There are stained glass appliques on the windows and the light is just right, transforming these giants into a cathedral like scene. The whole experience for me is quite surreal.
High overhead between all of the metal tanks are walkways for maintenance. I climb up to take a look.
Upon climbing down I discover the control center, a massive stainless steel control panel full of dials, lights, and gauges that looks more like a nuclear control device than a winery pump station.
The more I look at this thing the more I think “I’m in the Batcave!”
Currently the unit is idle and I don’t believe they are using it for current production. Massive hoses and pumping fixtures are everywhere. As I recall from my youth, this was a very noisy room.
Around the corner are even more of the giant redwood vats, we continue to explore.
Some of these old vats are amazingly detailed. Here are some of the maintenance ports that are located on each of the vats.
We make our way to the buildings middle level and discover an old freight elevator and one of the wine caves that Mike is refurbishing.
After some further exploring we make our way back to the main entryway where there is a small display of vintage wine making equipment and a cool Billy Dee Williams poster! I am a sucker for a 70’s Lando Calrissian poster.
Here we also find a stairway down and decide to take a look. We find more and more rooms with barrels stacked floor to ceiling.
Even more exploring finds us in some pretty cool tunnels under the main building and more wine cask storage caves. This place is HUGE.
At the end of the hall are the rooms I remember the best. As I enter the first tasting room those memories come rushing back once again! For me, it is unbelievable how this place is so frozen in time, fantastic!
Another vintage “Lake Country” poster.
Just down the hall from this tasting room is a larger room. This is the room that I remember the most. Literally, nothing looks as though it has moved an inch in this room in almost 40 years, so cool!
This place just reminds me of something out of medieval times. The architecture and details to construction are immaculate and Mike is working hard to keep the structure in perfect shape. All around the room are caches of memorabilia from wine competitions of the past and vintage years.
From there we make our way down a huge dining hall that looks to be straight out of Lord of the Rings! This just keeps getting better and better!
Just around another maze of tunnels is a cafe style tasting area.
We find it irresistible to set up some shots in here!
Just up the hall and a flight of stairs from the cafe are the old tour display areas. Another wine cave the Mike is refurbishing.
A champagne room lined with bottles. 99 thousand bottles of champagne on the wall.
The room is complete with a “Riddling Rack”?
More vintage wine and champagne machines are scattered in the room adjacent to the wall of bottles.
This particular machine grabs my interest and is called a “Dosage Machine”
Well it has been over 5 hours of shooting and the shadows are getting long outside, time to pack it in. We head outside and I have one of those “Oh Crap” moments, just as the door with automatic locks clicks behind me. I had left my jacket, wallet, all back in Mikes office, and now, we are locked out. We manage to find and open door but not to an area we are familiar with. This place, for those not used to the layout is a maze of stairs, tunnels, caves, and passageways. Mike and his workers should be commended just for knowing the layout. This new area that we find ourselves in is completely different from the rest. It is the old executive offices at the winery. This is where the big business was done. We start in the elaborately decorated reception/waiting room where redwood bark and a large copper wine barrel sculpture adorns the walls.
Through the open door once again, we are thrown into the 70’s. Old phones, furniture, art deco clocks, mammoth IBM computers, and dial-up modems still in place and ready to serve.
A view out one of the main boardrooms windows reveals the lower bottling facility and the beautiful Urbana Valley below.
Mike says that he plans on converting this floor into luxury apartments in the future where he will also re-purpose the redwood from several of the old barrels and vats to make flooring and furniture for them. How amazing would it be to live in a place like this? And evidence that he has already started is all around the facility. I can only imagine people will be lining up to rent these apartments from him in the near future.
Finally through some portal magic or stroke of luck, we end up back at Mike’s office and much to our amazement at 6:30pm, Mike is still at his desk, working away. When we tell him our story and that we are surprised to see he is still there at this hour, he just chuckles and says his hours are usually 8am to whenever.. usually 10 or 11, PM he laughs. We thank Mike for his amazing generosity and head out to the truck. The fall colors were peaking here on the grape vines so we ended our epic shoot with some exterior shots of the this lovely historic building.
All-in-all it was a fantastic day at the winery, truly made me feel like a kid again. Mike was awesome, his facility is amazing. I strongly urge you to contact him about your next function or event. His winery can offer a vintage touch and flavor not to be found elsewhere. You just cannot beat the unique combination of great people, business, and architecture to make a unique experience. Thanks Mike! Hope to see you and your crew again soon!
If you would like to know more about the winery and what it can offer you, check out this link: