The simple truth of the matter is that your tasting experience at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards will vary somewhat depending on when you visit. Sure there are some basics. You’ll be greeted by a friendly staff member inviting you to one of the tasting bars where you’ll find a wide assortment of wines to try, and a bowl of fresh popcorn to nibble. After paying just a $3 tasting fee, you’ll receive a $3 coupon to apply toward your purchase in our wine and gift shop. A staff member will then guide you through your tasting selections and answer any questions you may have about the wines or the farm.
How it all began...
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards & Winery, having entered its twentieth year of wine sales, might be considered a youngster in this industry. However, 20 years of retail doesn't do justice to the history and experience of the Hazlitt clan. Viticulture has been the life blood of the family for 151 years. On April 1, 1852 David Hazlitt and his wife Clarissa Roberts Hazlitt purchased 153 acres in the hamlet of Hector including most of present day Peach Orchard Point. The property's fruit trees and vineyards provided regionally sold produce that the Hazlitts shipped via wagon, boat, and the ever-expanding railroad. This era also saw the opening in Hammondsport of Great Western Winery and the demand for Hazlitt grapes in wine production.
Around the turn of the century David and Clarissa's son James Robert and Mary Miller Hazlitt purchased the current family home at 5631 Rt. 414. The house was later occupied by William Herbert Hazlitt and his wife Inez LaMoreaux and is now the home of Elisabeth Voorhees Hazlitt, widow of James R. Hazlitt. Her sons, James R. and Jerome V. Hazlitt divided the land in the early 1980's and both continued to operate vineyards. At present Jim and his son Eric produce vinifera grapes at Sawmill Creek Vineyards.
The late Jerry Hazlitt and his wife Elaine founded the winery in 1984. Jerry was an ardent home winemaker and wanted to share the fruits of his labors with friends and visitors. His love of the Finger Lakes , antiquities, and native lore made for many Saturday afternoon gatherings around the original tasting room bar sipping wine and being mesmerized by Jerry's animated storytelling. The Hazlitt tasting bars are still a laid back visit for those who enjoy their wine with stories, jokes, and smiles.
Of course, behind all the smiles and friendly faces are hard-working dedicated people who take the winemaking process very seriously. Elaine Hazlitt and sixth generation Hazlitts Doug and Leigh operate a growing and evolving winery which garners national and international attention with some outstanding vintages.
Elaine, as company president, continues to work to assure that as the business expands the heritage and traditions are not lost. More matriarch than corporate officer, Elaine preserves the century and a half old family feel. Hazlitt winery was built and opened as an extension of a family's passion. After well over a century of grape growing as a source of revenue the Hazlitt family found themselves faced with a drastic drop in crop prices in the early 1980's. Faced with the choice of selling the land and getting out of the business or finding another solution, Elaine and Jerry created their own alternative. Adept winemaking skills and a genuine nature of hospitality had always made the Hazlitt household conducive to great social gatherings. "Why not," thought the Hazlitts "invite the rest of the world to enjoy the great wines and great times?"
A very competent winemaker himself, Doug Hazlitt has assumed responsibility for daily operations of production. Having been involved in the winery from the start, Doug spent some time away from Seneca Lake to get his degree from SUNY Cobleskill. He also worked for a time as a river guide in Alaska , and then took time to hone his skills as a sailor. A natural with wind-driven vessels, Doug navigated many boats from U.S. coastal waters to the Carribean for owners who wanted the trip done right. In addition to his labors at the winery, for a period of time Doug owned and chartered the Malabar X. Originally launched in 1930 the wooden schooner was the racing design of its time and the ship to beat. Seventy-three years later and fully restored the Malabar X under the command of Captain Doug Hazlitt took the winning trophy in class at the 2003 Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner race in October. Visitors to the winery are much more likely to find Doug on a tractor or helm of the boat than in his office. He wouldn't have it any other way.
Daughter Leigh Hazlitt Triner shoulders the job of chief financial officer. "If you'd asked me while I was in college, it's unlikely that I would have told you I'd be working here after graduation." With a degree from Cornell in hotel management, Leigh envisioned a position in the corporate world. Fortunately for Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, she missed the lake and the beauty of the region. After a stint in Ohio with a major hotel chain and a move to California , Leigh returned to join the business as generation six. "I watched the winery grow and change. And each time I came home for a visit a new expansion was in the works. For years as a small business Mom [Elaine] had kept track of everything via pad and paper ledger. The mid and late nineties saw enormous growth in production and the popularity of Hazlitt's. We also had more employees, more outside distribution, and a larger retail area. I saw the need to computerize the books and operating systems. Mom needed help and I missed the lake I'd grown up with and loved. It's worked out great. And now," Leigh smiles as she stirrups her left foot and swings up onto Gharro, a gentle thoroughbred the family adopted, "I wouldn't be anywhere else."
The rest of the staff can usually be found smiling and joking with customers at the horse shoe bar. The smiles are genuine. There are few better places to learn and work. Their philosophies align with the family goal of growing and bottling amazing wine and not shrouding the product in mystery and the 'snobbery' often associated with enjoying wine. "Sure we make some great complex vinifera vintages," says Leigh. "But we don't stick our noses up and scoff at the people who enjoy sweeter blends or a fun bottle of Red Cat." Leigh's attitude is reflected by the entire staff, and the Hazlitt tasting room is perhaps the most warm and welcoming on the wine trail.
the legend of red cat
Ah, the famous Hazlitt Red Cat wine. Or maybe it’s better to call it the infamous Red Cat (a.k.a. HHJ) wine. Everyone comes to the winery to taste the Cat. Why? Because it’s a great wine with a great story! A forbidden story, that intrigues every patron, even the unsuspecting ones.
Legend tells that in the early 1980s, before the actual winery existed, founder Jerry Hazlitt, a 5th generation grape grower, made wine in his home for family and local friends. The first batch was hand pressed (actually foot stomped) in a big wooden tub in Jerry and wife Elaine’s driveway. The wine they called Red Catawba, for the native New York grapes used to make it, would soon be nicknamed Red Cat.
Some of this early Red Cat(awba) wine made it’s way down to a First of May Party at Hazlitt beach on Seneca Lake. Jerry’s sons, re-known for their gracious hospitality with the fairer gender, “borrowed some of Dad’s grape juice” and hosted a waterfront bash with a big bonfire and a homemade hot tub. It was quickly noted that as Red Cat was consumed, less apparel was worn in the hot tub. Thus HHJ, the original hot tub wine was born.
These days Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards makes many thousands of gallons of Red Cat a year. Tens of thousands of visitors each year stand at the horse shoe bar and bellow the Red Cat chant with friends and staff. Red Cat offers logo T-shirts, golf balls, beer & wine koozies, and of course thong panties. The rumors still circulate, new stories are told, and Red Cat still brings smiles and fun to a party.