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.

Tom_susan 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.  

We began with a couple sparkling wines, the 2008 Blanc de Noir
(which has not yet been released) and the 2008 Brut Rosé
($24.99). The Blanc de Noir was good, with a nice creaminess and
pleasant fruit flavors, and should turn out well when it is eventually
released. The Brut Rosé, made from 100% pinot noir, was delicious with
bright strawberry and cherry flavors. It was clean and refreshing, and I
could enjoy it on its own or with food. It was probably my favorite
sparkling wine of the weekend.
We then tasted a few 2009 Pinot Noir barrel samples,
from the Sawmill Creek and Hobbit Hollow Vineyards.  Tom
likes to experiment a bit with his wines, for example seeing what
happens with a 50% whole cluster as opposed to a 100% whole cluster. He
is also crafting pinots more in a Burgundian style, which is my
preferred style. Of the two vineyards, I preferred the Sawmill Creek
wines, as they had more of that earthiness which I enjoy in my pinot. The Hobbit Hollow had more bold fruit and also did not seem as complex
as the Sawmill Creek.
Of the two finished pinots, we began with the 2008 Pinot Noir
($19.99), a blend of 59% Hobbit Hollow and 41% Sawmill Creek. This
lush wine had bright cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of darker
fruits and spice deeper within. I could understand how the melding of
these two vineyards produced such a wine. I should also note that the
grapes from each vineyard are vinified separately. This was a pleasant
and easy-drinking wine, resembling far more France than California. At
under $20, this is a very good value.

The 2007 Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir ($39.99) simply stunned

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. 

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.