By Richard Auffrey, The Passionate Foodie
It was Sunday afternoon, the final event of TasteCamp 2010, and palate fatigue ran rampant among the attendees. There had already been 200-300 wines available for tasting over the weekend and I was not sure I could handle any more. Snow flurries whipped through the air and I faced a six-plus hour drive home.
Plus, my GPS couldn't seem to locate the Heart & Hands Wine Company.After a phone call, I was able to find the winery and join the rest of the TasteCamp crew. And soon, all of the troubles of the day seemed to diminish in insignificance. The passion of owners Tom and Susan Higgins (pictured at right) and their excellent pinot noirs thoroughly impressed me and it were a fine conclusion to the weekend.
Heart & Hands Wine Company, located on the eastern side of Cayuga Lake, is a relative newcomer to the Finger Lakes region, having been established in 2008. Tom and Susan are down-to-earth, personable and passionate people. Their enthusiasm for winemaking is infectious and it seemed to spread throughout our group.
The winery is small, planning to produce about 1,600 cases of wine this year, and eventually topping out at 2000 cases. They only make wines from pinot noir (about 80% of their production) and riesling.
Pinot noir in New York? Though it might seem unusual at first, the Higginses prove that this grape can succeed in this cool climate. Riesling might be the signature grape of this region, but some excellent red wines are also being produced in this area as well.
Tom presided over the tasting, giving us some background on the winery and their methods of winemaking. He gave us a very rational explanation for why small producers usually can make significantly superior pinot noir than the larger producers. It centers on the time and labor required to bring out the best in the wine.
For example, it requires hand picking and sorting, to select only the best grapes rather than just lumping everything together, good and bad, into one large vat. The large producers cannot devote sufficient time to hand pick and sort -- not with the amounts of grapes they harvest. There are other procedures as well that a small producer can do more easily and efficiently, though they are time and labor-intensive.For our tasting, we got to try both finished wines as well as some barrel samples. You really felt as if you were getting an inside view of the winery. We had a chance to taste in their barrel room, buried underground and benefiting from natural cooling.
The 2007 Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir ($39.99) simply stunned me.
This was an exceptional wine in the Burgundian mode, and showed the vast potential for pinot noir in the Finger Lakes. All of the grapes came from Sawmill Creek and it resembled what I had tasted in the barrel samples. The nose seduced me with its melange of black cherry, plum, spice, floral notes and touch of earth. The taste followed through on the promise of the aroma, delivering a lush and complex blend of flavors. Each sip seemed to deliver a mouthful of pure bliss.
Well balanced, the finish was long and satisfying, making me crave more of this wine.
I consider this a world-class pinot noir and well worth its price. If the Finger Lakes region is capable of such wines, they should plant more pinot noir. It would be a great niche for dedicated, small producers who take the time and effort needed to craft such a superb wine.
I had to buy a couple bottles of this wine, and probably should have bought even more. I recently took one of the bottles to a dinner party and it was greatly preferred over a $50 French Burgundy.
Though we also got to taste their rieslings, I could not stop thinking about their pinot. It had broken through my palate fatigue, and excited my senses. I had tasted several other pinots from this region, but none came even close to the quality of the Heart & Hands Barrel Reserve. TasteCamp ended on a very high note for me.