[OSBURN ON TAP] You Can’t Bully Walter’s Hill

Osburn on Tap by Chris Osburn

Beer has been the topic of choice for almost all of my previous articles. I’ve plunged into the land of Italian Amaro and even drank at the table of Jeremiah Weed, but for some odd reason I’ve strayed away from wine for the most part. That changes right now. Today I’m going to tell you about the odd history and the wines of Bully Hill Vineyards.

Bully Hill was the first wine I ever tried and because it’s delicious, affordable, local and available at every liquor store in my area, I continue to enjoy it to this day. Also, it’s pretty cool because it has ties to professional sports teams and we all know how much I love sports. It’s the official wine of the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins. It also has a pretty strange and unique history.

Bully Hill Vineyards is located in Hammondsport, New York in the Finger Lakes Wine region. The Vineyard is near Keuka Lake, home to many wineries, including Rooster Head Vineyards, Keuka Spring Vineyards and Heron Hill Winery.

Greyton H. Taylor and Walter S. Taylor started the vineyard on land that they had purchased from a man named Lloyd Sprague in 1958. The interesting thing is that the Taylor Wine Company had sold the land to Sprague back in 1920 only to buy it back from him thirty-eight years later. In 1970, Walter was fired from the Taylor Wine Company and, along with his father Greyton, formed Bully Hill Vineyards on the land.

When Greyton died, Walter took over full ownership of the Winery and Vineyards. At this time, he started the first wine museum in the United States. Also during this time, other winery owners began to take heat from Taylor because of his claims that many used grapes shipped in from other states instead of growing their own. People began to think that Taylor had become (pun intended) drunk with the power that he had accrued with his own winery. This was just the beginning of the strange history of Bully Hill Vineyards, though.

After the Taylor Wine Company merged with the Coca-Cola Company in 1977, they sued Walter Taylor over the use of his name. This is where things started to get really interesting. U.S. District Judge, Harold P. Burke, actually agreed with the suit and he said that Bully Hill could no longer use the word “Taylor” in their packaging or advertising. The name was then crossed out on all the previously printed labels and packaging

The really funny part about this whole debacle is the fact that clearly Taylor is Walter’s last name. The court ruling pretty much said that because the Taylor Wine Company didn’t want him to, he couldn’t even use his last name to promote his products. In fact, until the day he died, Walter would often tell people that his name was “Walter S. Blank” to poke fun at the court ruling.

Eventually, the ruling was changed and he was allowed to use his name as long as he added a disclaimer that he had no connection to the Taylor Wine Company along with a long list of stipulations as to how and where his name could appear on his labels. He was instructed to bring all of the old labels to Taylor Wine Company so they could be destroyed. After this was done, his court room troubles would be over and he would be free to make and sell his wine without fear of prosecution, Walter complied on November 8th, 1979, but also decided to throw a parade as well as a party to mark the monumental day.

Instead of being mad about all of his court troubles, Walter used all of the press to create a buzz for his winery and his products. Nowadays, Bully Hill is the second largest wine producer in New York State and that’s mostly because of the notoriety the winery received during the lawsuit.

Some of the forty or so wines available from Bully Hill include: Chardonnay Elise, Fish Market White, Goat White, Space Shuttle Red, Walter S. Red, Love My Goat, Le Goat Blush and many more.

*This article originally appeared on drinkingmadeeasy.com. I write an article there every other week. Check them out. I write about beer, wine and spirits.

For more information, visit: BullyHill.com





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