Download &
print (pdf)

Heart & Hands Finger Lakes Pinot Noir Challenges Regional Skepticism

I wrote last year about the Tom Higgins and the Heart & Hands Wine Company in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York ( and Tom is one of a small group of dedicated vintners making strides with Pinot Noir in this very cool growing region. Along the banks of the Finger Lakes there are sites that are ideal for Pinot Noir, with soils redolent of Onondaga formation limestone and outcroppings of shale. The proximity of the vineyards to the lakes and the gently sloping sites offer vineyards protection from harsh winter weather. The Finger Lakes is on average one of the wettest wine regions in the world during harvest, the biggest threat to winegrowing in this northerly region.

Evan Dawson posted a feature in the New York Cork Report (“A Change of Heart About Pinot, and Another Sign that the Finger Lakes is Rallying Around This Red,” January 30, 2013). There are only about eight vintners crafting Pinot Noir seriously (the region is much more successful with the more commercially viable Riesling). Finger Lakes Pinot Noir has been accused of being “wimpy” by judges in wine competitions because the wines are lighter, less fruity and not showy. The wines are more Old World, being more austere, higher in acid, lower in alcohol, and less richly endowed with fruit. Bob Madill, general manager at Sheldrake Point Vineyards, said, “Some people don’t know what the fuss is about, but great pinot is subtle.”

Tom is crafting about 1,500 cases annually of exciting Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Blanc, Brut Rosé, and Riesling at his winery on the shores of Cayuga Lake using grapes from several top winegrowers in the region. Curiously, he vinifies his Pinot Noirs with significant whole cluster (the Barrel Reserve is 100% and the regional bottling is typically 50%) which seems to defy all logic for this very cool region where grapes are typically picked at low Brix. His experience working at Calera Wine Company and sampling many whole cluster wines from the similar cool climate of Burgundy led him to believe it could be done in the Finger Lakes. His pioneering efforts in this region have alerted others and in 2012 more that 50% of his Finger Lakes colleagues were incorporating some amount of stem inclusion in their Pinot Noir programs. He has worked with Cornell University for a few years to better understand his stem program.

Tom reports that the 2011 vintage in the Finger Lakes had an abundance of moisture in the spring, followed by a warm and dry summer with intermittent thunder storms. Harvest received considerable moisture from two hurricanes. Despite the challenges at harvest, the Pinot Noir wines are aromatically expressive. 2012 offered a mild winter and unseasonably warm March causing a record early bud break. Warm weather continued throughout the summer leading to the earliest harvest on record. The Pinot Noir benefited from the heat resulting in intense flavors and additional structure.

The wines reviewed here must be appreciated in the context of where they originate. The wines are far from the richly endowed Pinot Noirs of California, but they have their own delicate and enduring charm. The use of significant whole cluster fermentation gives the wines a slew of interesting aromas and flavors without any significant intrusion of unwelcome vegetal tones that can be associated with stem inclusion. The tannin structure is also noticeably different. The Pinot Noirs are generally vinified in 1-ton fermenting bins for about 14 days, basket pressed and aged 12 months in 100% Francois Frères oak barrels. All wines are bottled under glass closure (Vino-Seal). Visit for more information.

2011 Heart & Hands Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

11.8% alc., pH 3.51, TA 0.66, 628 cases, $21. Sourced from Patrician Verona, Elaine’s and Hobbit Hollow vineyards. Yields 1.9 tons per acre. 50% whole cluster. Aged in 32% new French oak barrels. · Light reddish-salmon color in the glass. Delicate aromas of red cherries, red raspberries, dried herbs and the slightest oak. Very demure and elegant, but offering pleasant flavors of red fruits and some satisfying cherry on the finish. The oak is slightly imposing and there is a subtle canned vegetal note in the background. Score: 85

2011 Heart & Hands Elaine’s Vineyard Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

11.9% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.67, 49 cases, $31. This vineyard overlooks the eastern shores of Seneca Lake. Vineyard manager John Santos employs balanced vine strategy. Yield 2.1 tons per acre. 100% whole cluster. Unfined and unfiltered. · Light reddish-salmon color in the glass. Charming aromas of cherries, rose petal, baking spice and herbal oak. Good intensity of cherry flavor with a hint of brown spice, rose water and complimentary oak. Noticeable but not intrusive tannins with an uplifting backbone of acidity. A juicy wine with some charm. Score: 88

2011 Heart & Hands Hobbit Hollow Vineyard Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.3% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.62, 49 cases, $31. This vineyard is located on the western side of Skaneateles Lake on the lakeshore. The owner is Mike Falcone and the vineyard manager is Paul Wellington. Yield 1.8 tons per acre. 100% whole cluster. Unfined and unfiltered. · Light reddish-salmon color in the glass. More intense cherry aroma and flavor in this wine with a dusting of oak and spice. The firm but not astringent tannins are supportive and the mid palate fruit carries over nicely to the satisfying and juicy finish. Score: 89

2011 Heart & Hands Patrician Verona Vineyard Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.66, 49 cases, $31. This vineyard is located on the western side of Cayuga Lake. Yield 2.3 tons per acre. 100% whole cluster. Unfined and unfiltered. · Light reddish-salmon color in the glass. Complex and enticing nose offering scents of black cherry, spice, forest floor, deep red rose petal and toast. Very flavorful with a core of fresh cherry fruit accented by red currant and dried herb tastes. Modest in weight with integrated tannins, supportive oak and an appealingly polished demeanor. Score: 90

2010 Heart & Hands Barrel Reserve Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

12.3% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.62, 320 cases, $41. 54% Hobbit Hollow, 31% Elaine’s, and 23% Patrician Verona vineyards. Yield 2.0 tons per acre. 100% whole cluster. A barrel selection, aged 18 months in 52% new and 48% used Francois Frères oak barrels. · Light reddish-salmon color in the glass. Strikingly aromatic with hi-tone scents of red berries, red cherries, brown spice, molasses, beet root and spice. Very elegant and charming with a tasteful array of fruits including red cherries, red raspberries and cranberries. Wonderful whole cluster spice and a hint of root beer. Modest in weight with balanced tannins, a bright acid backbone and a wholesome finish of some persistence. Very exotic and interesting. At the end of the day, when I had a dozen opened wines to choose from, many of which were from California, this was the wine I chose to drink before and with dinner. Score: 93

2012 Heart and Hands Polarity Finger Lakes White Wine

12.3% alc., pH 3.43, TA 0.60, residual sugar 0g/L, 62 cases, $26. 100% Pinot Noir, whole cluster pressed with minimal skin contact. Barrel fermented on the lees with gentle stirring every few days. Aged 9 months in oak barrels. A Pinot Noir blanc. · Very light apricot color and clear in the glass. Aromas of honeydew, almond and chalk dust lead to flavors of muted cherry, tangerine, kumquat zest, persimmon and vanilla cream. A delicate, but unique wine, with robust acidity and a very seductive creamy mouth feel. Score: 88

Previous article:
Sips of Recently Tasted Oregon Pinot Noir
Next article:

Print entire newsletter

Wineries in this Article