Penguin Bay Winery on the march

Penguin Bay Winery and Champagne House on Seneca Lake (formerly the Finger Lakes Champagne House) is a sister winery/retail outlet for the sparkling wines made by Swedish Hill Vineyards and Goose Watch Winery.  They offer six or so sparkling wines that run the gamut from Dry to Sweet.  If you like the bubbly stuff you should certainly pay a visit.    They also offer 10 or so wines produced under the Penguin Bay label.  They do not seem to be just re-labeled versions of those offered by Swedish Hill or Goose Watch.

The Wine & Sparklers

The sparkling wine ranges from their dry Brut, Naturel and Pinot Noir Rose, to their semi-dry Blanc de Blanc and on to the sweet Golden Spumante and Spumante Blush.  This full a range of sparkling wines (Champagne not made in that region of France) is unusual in the Finger Lakes.  Most of the other wineries produce a sparkling wine or two, but not six.  The only other wineries with that many or more are Pleasant Valley Wine Company on Keuka (same as Caywood Vineyards on Seneca) and Chateau Renaissance Wine Cellars on Keuka.  So if you are a fan of bubbling wine, Penguin Bay is a good place to taste several side-by-side.

The wines of Penguin Bay are also full spectrum in terms of sweetness.  I was intrigued by their Maroon Four which is a blend primarily of Corot Noir and Noiret which are new varieties developed by Cornell University.  They produced a nice smooth, yet peppery red wine.  I'm not sure if the pepper is characteristic of these new grapes or just caused by an overly shady year (our pourer was unable to answer this as he didn't stick around long enough for questions).   The Cabernet was a blend of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc.  I found it too smoky for my taste, but I'm sure it is not without fans.    The Riesling was semi-sweet which was a bit too sweet for me, but had plenty of fruit that might make it more appealing in the heat of summer (definitely not a Fall wine for me). 

The Setting

I appreciate that Penguin Bay uses the same selection method that is done at its sister wineries.  They give you tasting notes of their full line and let you choose 8 for your tasting fee.  This gives you time to look it over and check off what you want and then the pourer gets you started.   It also gives you the chance to take your notes with you so that any that you put stars by or smiley faces or exclamation points (whatever system you use) you can then go pull out of the racks for your purchase without having to commit names to memory.

The tasting room has recently been expanded and has more than doubled in size which allows them to accommodated buses and larger crowds. Being that this was in the Fall (busiest tasting season of the year) upon entering, the front tasting bar was crowded with no opening in site so we spotted the new mammoth tasting bar in the addition and went back to it (definitely a mistake). It may be that the new expansion is not completely finished, or it may be the design was faulty but it lead to a really poor tasting experience.  The tasting bar in the addition is probably close to 30 feet long with two sides plus a large end,  but the cooler where the wine is kept is located at the end where it is farthest from anyone being served.  So our pourer (I won't call him a flight attendant for a reason) had to walk the entire length of the bar with one bottle at a time just looking at the checked off sheets on the bar and if you had the wine checked off, he poured it in your class and moved on.  He didn't tell you what it was, or describe it in any way.  Then he walked back to the cooler and grabbed the next bottle and repeated the cycle.  One pourer tending one side of a 30 ft counter by himself.  I could understand why he couldn't tell us anything about the wine...there was no time and no energy.  Though it would have been nice if he could have mustered the strength to point to the bottle and grunt so we know what it was we were tasting.  Hopefully they will be making changes to the placement of the wine to make it easier on the people working the counter, I also hope they'd hire more people to work the counter, or close sections off if they can't support them.  As an innkeeper, I end up spending most mornings talking to our guests about what they liked and didn't like on the wine trail.  Nearly all of them are very swayed by the experience they have at the counter (the wine is almost secondary).  If they have a great experience, they will tell us how much they liked the place, and if they have a bad experience, they will complain, even if they happened to like the wine.  So my suggestion if you go to Penguin Bay Winery is to hold out for a spot at the front tasting bar.  The bar is smaller and layed out in a way that will help you have a better experience. 

Overall I suggest going to Penguin Bay for the sparkling wine, and taste from the wines that are in the range your taste.  Knowing the length of time and the commitment that the parent wineries have made,  I am sure they will figure out how to use their new larger space in a more positive way.  I'll definitely go back and update this review in the future. 

Oh and by the way, their are no Penguins in Seneca Lake nor is there an actual bay on the lake with that name.

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