Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heart and Hands Wine Company on Lake Cayuga, NY

So, I finally made it to Heart & Hands to see the place where the magic is made. Let me state at the outset that the two best Pinot Noirs made in New York are Heart & Hands and Oak Summit. All the rest is nice, and good, and very delicious, but these are the two best - hands down.

The winery is on the upper, eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, which is to say, it's way the far hell away from Watkins Glenn or anywhere else I usually go in the Finger Lakes. So it's hard to get there, which is always bothersome to me. But it is what it is.

The winery is what I expected it to be. A small, tastefully done building, with many features of a larger winery in a smaller winery. The tastingroom was handsomely painted, as if it were someone's living room, with tones of maroon and a buttery light yellow, with lots of wood tones. Very, very tasteful and handsome, like something out of Traditional Home magazine.

And Tom and Susan Higgins are a handsome couple. More importantly, they are very nice, and committed folks. Tom is the winemaker, and Susan is sales and marketing. Together, they are a team like few other couples.

Tom and Suan welcomed us, and were very friendly from the outset. After some chatting, Tom took us to the barrel room and gave us tastes of his different barrels. Each barrel was different. Single clones in one. Whole cluster fermentation in another. 50% whole cluster fermentation in another. We tasted relatively new wines, and reserves still in the barrel.

Tom takes his winemaking very, very seriously. For such a small winery, he takes every care he can, and is exacting in his preperation and detail. The barrels room is fill with crushed stone, and is modulated by the earth's temperature. The room breathes enough for the proper humidity. Tom has man of the latest gadgets, but has enough old world in him to be a solid blend of the two.

The whole cluster wines to me were the most expressive and complex. Really beautiful, with deep cherry flavors, with river stones, and shale, firm tannins, and the rounding influence of French oak. On the other hand, the 50% couser wines showed brighter fruit, with intense flvors and lovely soft tannins. And the barrel reserve was incredible and complex, elegant. Impressive.

Tom could talk about each barrel and what happened to it, and how it came to be. The fact that it was all Pinot Noir was what was striking. Tom is like Picaso in his Blue Period. He paints, as it were, with basically one color. But he explores the depths, the brighteness, the hues, and the uses of that one color so as to create an entire palate of smells, tastes, and nuances like few winemakers I have seen. Tom is happy to bring bottles of his barreled wine to other winemakers and wine writers, soliciting advice and opinions. He is obsessed with getting the final blends just right.

It's almost hard to drink wine so personal, so intense, so meaningful. One wants to give the wine their full attention, giving each wine's gravitas its due. One is almost afraid to just enjoy the wines for wine's sake. But I have to tell you - they are all that good. And you are defintely seeing the grapes in the hand of a master.

Heading back to the tastingroom, with their large Bernese Mountain dog, we hunkered down to the grotesque task of having to taste the delicious wines that were already confined to green bottles. It was a hard job, but someone had to do it.

Firstly, unbeknownst to me, Tom also makes riesling! One gets the sense that it's almost against his will - like he's cheating on his firs love, Pinot, to spend time with this new mistress. He does not have the same passion for the process, as he does for the Pinot. But he has the same obsessiveness to make it beautifully. The Dry Riesling is incredible, bright crisp, clean. It's easilly one of the nicest dry rieslings in the Finger Laeks. And his Riesling, with a hint of sweetness, and scents of pineapple and apricot, is out of this world!!!!

Then we get to the Pinot Noir. Wow! The 2009 Pinot Noir is full of cherries and with a hint of smokiness or earth. There is a lot fo there, there. At $19.00 a bottle, it's a steel, and I curse the fact that I can;t buy two cases immediately. It's intensity and careful crafting comethrough in every sip, and when I close my eyes, and smell the wine, I wonder if I am back in the Santa Ynez Mountains drinking Pinot in lower California. Incredible.

The next wine is the Barrel Reserve. If the Pinot Noir is bright cherry and fruit, this is a dark raspberry, medium-to-dark cherry Pinot Noir, with hints of spice, old leaf tabacco, and incredible whiffs of dark bean vanilla. This is rich, complex wine, that is elegant and fantastic!

Both these Pinot Noirs could compare with their California or French cousins, and do so favorably. That is not hyperbole. These are quality wines that have arrived.

Tom and Susan Higgins are creating something wonderful up on the far corner of Cayuga Lake. Something magical. You must go there and experience their wines.