A Terroir Tasting

Heron Hill winemaker Mark Patterson in the tasting room.

The single vineyard craze has been in full force for just a few years in the Finger Lakes, so it was with some surprise that I learned from John Ingle that he has been offering a single vineyard Riesling at Heron Hill Winery since 1985. “At that time I had been reading about early single vineyard experiments out west (California) and decided to give it a try with our Ingle Vineyard label,” John tells me. “I guess we were ahead of our time.”

Most wineries in the Finger Lakes and around the world blend different lots of fermented juice to come up with their wine of that vintage. Usually, those lots come from various blocks of vines throughout one large estate, or they are made up of a mixture of estate-grown grapes and grapes purchased from other area growers. A single vineyard wine, however, is made from grapes from a specific vineyard, which is either wholly separate from other vineyards or might represent a block or section of a large property.

Advocates of single vineyard wines extol what the French call terroir, a term that takes into account all of the variables that go into the growth of grapes in a single location, from sun exposure to temperature variations to soil types. While not all aspects of terroir are verified scientifically, there remains little doubt among wine enthusiasts that the same grape from the same year, crafted in a similar fashion, can make wildly different wines in vineyards that may be only a few miles, or even yards, apart.

“A little fun” with Riesling
I was speaking with John to inquire about Heron Hill’s recent release of five single vineyard Rieslings, all of the same 2013 vintage, sourced from vineyards that span five different lakes (Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles). John Ingle is the owner of Heron Hill who founded the winery in 1977 with his wife Josephine. The winery, perched atop the steep western slopes of Keuka Lake, has long featured wines from John’s own vineyard on Canandaigua Lake, in addition to its main label. It was only natural, John explains, to stretch this emphasis further and have a little fun with Riesling from around the region.

After 30 years of growing grapes in the Finger Lakes, John knew instinctively that Riesling was suited for an experiment that intended to prove that terroir has a significant impact on the flavor profile of the wine. “The growers were excited to participate,” John recalls. “We all knew that we had an opportunity to showcase something important. We believe in the power of dry Riesling in the Finger Lakes.”

He says that he was not surprised that all five wines from 2013 would differ from one another so significantly.

Educating the public
Heron Hill is serious about showcasing its single vineyard series as an educational platform for both experienced tasters and those who want to learn more about wine. A pamphlet with a page dedicated to each Riesling is available at the winery. It notes the location, elevation, age of vines, harvest date, soil type, clone identification, and degrees brix at harvest for each. Consumers who go to any of Heron Hill’s three tasting rooms are presented the flight of single vineyard Rieslings on a special counter mat. Each glass is labeled as to the origin of its contents. “We designed this as an alternative tasting experience,” says Erin Rafalowski, marketing manager at Heron Hill. “It’s interactive, and it encourages people to find out what they like about the wine.”

Wine lovers who go to Heron Hill to taste the single vineyard series will be treated to five very different Rieslings (see tasting notes), but Heron Hill winemaker Mark Patterson stresses that no one should doubt the authenticity of what has been produced. “These wines were made with the same yeast, fermented under identical circumstances, and they were all bottled on the same day,” he attests. Mark believes that the major differences between the wines are due to the terroir variations at each growing location.

As to which one is “the best,” John Ingle sums up the quandary perfectly: “It’s like trying to pick a favorite child. These are all different wines, and I find something in each that I like. The excitement is in evaluating each one and comparing them in a positive way.”

He hopes that Heron Hill will be able to keep the experiment going each vintage “as long as Mother Nature cooperates.”

Tasting Notes

The 2013 Heron Hill Dry Riesling Single Vineyard Series

Ingle Vineyard, Canandaigua Lake – This is Alsatian in style, with an oily texture and tons of slate. A very distinct dry Riesling.

Heron Hill Estate Vineyard, Keuka Lake – Moss and wet rock flavors, with a nose of pear. Totally different mineral profile from the Ingle Vineyard.

Morris Vineyard, Seneca Lake – A great example of a more typical Finger Lakes Riesling profile, with melon and apple dominating.

Patrician Verona Vineyard, Cayuga Lake – Tight and restrained, with hints of lime zest and orange peel. Trace of minerality. Very curious and still developing.

Hobbit Hollow Farm, Skaneateles Lake – A little more residual sugar than the others with a floral nose reminiscent of an unoaked Chardonnay. Dominant herbal flavors on the palette.

Only at Heron Hill

The Dry Riesling Single Vineyard Series is available only in the Heron Hill tasting rooms. Due to limited production, the winery encourages anyone interested in the 2013 vintage to call or stop before summer 2015. Heron Hill’s main tasting room is located on the western side of Keuka Lake. There are two satellite tasting rooms with a full lineup of wines on Route 14 on Seneca Lake, and in Bristol on the west shore of Canandaigua Lake.

Heron Hill Winery
9301 County Route 76
Hammondsport, NY 14840

Tasting Room at Bristol
5323 Seneca Point Rd
Canandaigua, NY 14424

Tasting Room on Seneca Lake
3586 Route 14
Himrod, NY 14842


story and photos by Jason Feulner

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