How do you change a longstanding reputation? Don Tones is trying to answer that question.
The name Stever Hill Vineyards may be unfamiliar to readers of this site. Located on the western side of Keuka Lake, the winery has a reputation for sweet, lower-quality wines. In 2012, though, the Tones family bought Stever Hill Vineyards with an eye toward turning things around.
The Tones family has been growing grapes in the region for generations, and multiple generations of the family are currently involved in winery operations — owners Don, Harold, and Jim, Don’s daughter Liz Sprague and son Mike, and nephew John. They’ve added three new wines to their list: a Dry Riesling, a Dry Traminette, and their Old Barn Red. They’ve also opened a brand-new tasting room with a covered patio where there was live music through the summer.
Stever Hill has approximately 500 acres of vines and produces around 1,000 cases of wine; they also sell grapes to several other wineries. Their Dry Traminette, which is tasting room manager Liz’s favorite, is a nice crisp wine with echoes of gewurztraminer in its nose. Don Tones’s favorite Old Barn Red is made with estate-grown St. Croix; I found this to have a lovely long finish and notes of dark raspberry and cherry on the palate.
The updated tasting room is much brighter and more open than the old room, with exposed beams and lighter wood paneling. The new patio opens onto a view of the vineyard, looking over rows of Marquette grapes.
Don told me that the family considered changing the winery’s name, but decided to keep the Stever Hill name because they wanted to try to outgrow the old winery’s reputation. They also kept most of the previous wine lineup, including bestseller Mae’s Rose (a sweet Concord) so that they wouldn’t lose any of the old customers.
Stever Hill Vineyards is open every day from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and is located at 3962 Stever Hill Rd., Branchport, NY 14418.