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Heart & Hands Wine Company: Pinot Noir Off the Beaten Trail

I originally ran across Tom Higgins several years ago at Thirsty Owl Wine Company in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York. He had experienced winemaking in Bordeaux and at Calera Wine Company before working at Thirsty Owl and Atwater Estate Vineyards. He and his spouse, Susan, found a suitable site for a vineyard and winery on a gently sloping hillside overlooking the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. The site was ideal for Pinot Noir and Riesling, with soils redolent of Onondaga formation limestone with outcroppings of shale. The proximity to the lake and the gently sloping site offer the vineyard protection from harsh winter weather, the biggest threat to winegrowing in this northerly region.

Grapes are sourced from Hobbit Hollow Vineyard (west side of Skaneateles Lake, Pinot Noir), Patrician Verona Vineyard (west side of Cayuga Lake, Riesling), Elaine’s Vineyard (overlooks the eastern shores of Seneca Lake, Pinot Noir), and Nutt Road Vineyard (west side of Seneca Lake).

In 2008, a winery adjacent the Estate Vineyard was completed and a tasting room was opened the following year. Production is just under 1,500 cases annually of sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, white Pinot Noir (Polarity) and Riesling. I caught up with Tom at this year’s World of Pinot Noir and he sent me a lineup of recent releases to review.

In the Finger Lakes, 2008 was an excellent vintage with warm days and cool nights during the summer and warm, dry weather in September and October. 2009 was only mildly less desirable, marked by a cool, moist summer and a dry and warm September. 2010 offered a mild winter and a hot and humid growing season with cooler seasonable temperatures in September.

When tasting the Pinot Noirs from Heart & Hands, you must have different expectations than you would experience tasting California Pinot Noirs. The wines must be taken in the context of their growing region. The plush fruit intensity is simply not there. The wines are more Old World, more austere, higher in acid, lower in alcohol, and less richly flavored. That said, they have a charm of their own. Riesling is the prized varietal in the Finger Lakes, but a small group of vintners, including Tom, are making strides with Pinot Noir.

2008 Heart and Hands Brut Rosé Finger Lakes Sparkling Wine

12.7% alc., pH 3.18, 33 cases. From Seneca Lake vineyards. Fermented 23 hours on the skins at 56 degrees for color extraction, whole cluster basket pressed, 16-day fermentation in stainless steel. Secondary fermentation in the bottle and the wine was disgorged on January 20, 2009. · Pale red raspberry color in the glass. Aromas of strawberries, yeast and petrichor. Crisp, with a good bead, and flavors of red berries and herbs with a spirited, acid-driven, dry finish. Good.

2008 Heart and Hands Barrel Reserve Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.9% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.58, 195 cases, $39.99. Yields 1.9 tons per acre from Sawmill Creek and Hobbit Hollow Vineyards. 100% whole cluster. Aged in 38% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, spice, vanillin, oak spice and stem. Light and elegant flavors of black cherries, cranberries and raspberries with a leafy, tea and herbal riff in the background. The tannins outweigh the fruit by a tad. Impressive finishing length. Good (+).

2009 Heart and Hands Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.6% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.61, 467 cases. Yields 2.1 tons per acre. Four vineyards with Sawmill Creek Vineyard making up 57% of the blend. Aged 12 months in 19% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Light red color in the glass. Aromas of ripe cherries, raisin, porto, spice and aromatic herbs. Light and soft in the mouth with herbal-toned red fruit flavors and a delicate finish. Decent (+).

2009 Heart and Hands Barrel Reserve Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.7% alc.m pH 3.71, TA 0.54, 324 cases. 100% whole cluster. Aged 18 months in 46% new and 54% used Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Moderately light red color in the glass. Ripe cherry and berry fruit on the nose with hints of marzipan and acetaldehyde. The most intensely flavored Pinot Noir in the lineup with the longest finish. Robust taste of black cherries and dark raspberries with plenty of supporting structural integrity. Very Good.

2009 Heart and Hands Hobbit Hollow Vineyard Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.6% alc., pH 3.73, TA 0.61, 25 cases. Yields 1.9 tons per acre. Aged in 50% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Light reddish color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with fresh aromas of red cherry pie glaze, sandalwood and briar. Delicious core of well-ripened red cherries and berries. Crisp with some polish and length, but the tannins outweigh the fruit. Good.

2010 Heart and Hands Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.4% alc., pH 3.71, TA 0.61, 421 cases, $20.99, Vino-Seal closure. Composed of three vineyard sources with 54% coming from Patrician Verona Vineyard. Aged 12 months in 29% new Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Very light red color in the glass. The nose picks up interest over time in the glass, showing pleasing aromas of red berries, red cherries, spice and bramble. Light in body, but offering pleasant flavors of fresh cherries and strawberries with an undertone of savory herbs, finishing with a tangy cherry note. Good (+).

2010 Heart and Hands Polarity Finger Lakes White Pinot Noir

12.7% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.76, 81 cases, $26.99. Whole cluster pressed with limited skin contact. Fermented in barrels with lees stirring postfermentation. Aged 9 months in barrel. · Delicate orange color. A chameleon of a nose with aromas changing constantly, the most notable of which are strawberries, white peaches, buttered brioche, vanilla and herbs. Delicious and soft and smooth in the mouth with an array of red and white fruit flavors that challenge your perception of Pinot Noir. The fruit is beautifully framed by bright acidity and the tannins are supple, combining to add to the contemplative experience. Simply put, a great wine.

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