Sticking to the Plan
When I first visited Heart & Hands Winery in Union Springs over five years ago, I was treated to wines crafted with passion and precision by Tom Higgins, winemaker and cofounder of the winery along with his wife, Susan. Tom has a predilection for facts and figures – as the information-laden labels on his wines suggest – and the Heart & Hands story is one of deliberate planning. The two-wine focus (Pinot Noir and Riesling), the location of the winery, the production methods and the bottle enclosures: Each and every element at Heart & Hands is deliberately executed by Tom and Susan to their specifications.
In fact, the site location was the main focus of Tom’s discussion points. During that initial conversation, he laid out in great detail how he had chosen the vineyard site based on its proximity to the Cayuga Lake shore, its slope, and, most importantly, its limestone soil well suited for growing Pinot Noir. Tom wanted the vineyard to drive his winemaking vision.
At least, that was the plan. Like many wineries, Tom at first sourced his grapes from high-quality growers. During the first few years at Heart & Hands, Tom could only point at a recently cleared field adjacent to the tasting room. The vines weren’t there yet.
It’s easy to take vineyards for granted. They can be lush and beautiful things to behold, and their green symmetry seems to inspire those who admire “wine country” settings. Vineyards, however, take a lot of planning and a lot of dirty work to get off the ground.
The happy ending to the story is that Tom and Susan did plant their vineyard, and the even happier ending is that it yielded one heck of a wine (see tasting notes). The photographs and captions above, the newer set captured during the most recent harvest, will hopefully provide the reader some idea as to the time it takes to plan, plant and sustain a vineyard as part of a productive winemaking enterprise.
What makes the vineyard at Heart & Hands such a great teaching tool is that it is not a sprawling farm but a relatively small plot planted with great focus. Visitors to the winery can get a sense of how viticulture works in the Finger Lakes. “A small vineyard is more the norm in places like Burgundy where vintners work with one small vineyard year in and year out,” Tom relates. “It creates a better connection so that winemakers can make good decisions about the wine.”
A before-and-after view from the middle of the 4-acre Heart & Hands vineyard. It takes four years for a vineyard to mature to the point where a sufficient harvest can be had for winemaking. Left photo by Tom Higgins. Right photo by Jason Feulner
Higgins still uses grapes from various vineyards around the Finger Lakes. The Heart & Hands vineyard is used primarily to produce Mo Chuisle (My Pulse), of which the 2012 is the first vintage. This single-vineyard Pinot, which uses all 7 clones grown on the property, is simply excellent, exhibiting layers and layers of well-balanced fruit and acidity from start to finish.
story by Jason Feulner, photos by Jason Feulner and Tom Higgins