Heron Hill, in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region, has an imposing location set back from Keuka Lake on a promontory. The impressive modern architecture of its pastel yellow coloured winery and tasting room feature pillars faced with locally quarried cobblestones.
The facility, which was built in 2000, is topped by a tower offering spectacular views over vineyards in front and the lake. Heron Hill was selected by Travel & Leisure magazine as having one of the world’s top ten most spectacular tasting rooms; the only other US winery on the list is Napa Valley’s Opus One. More than 50,000 visitors come annually to enjoy the views, taste and buy wines and eat in the Blue Heron cafe.
Owners John and Jo (Josephine)) Ingle started out as grape growers, but when they couldn’t sell their crop because of over-production they decided in 1977 to buy Heron Hill in order to make their own wine. John titles himself as ‘grape-grower and owner’. Although he hasn’t gone down the certification route, he farms sustainably and without using chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides. Weeds are controlled by ploughing, vines are tended manually and grapes are harvested by hand. John told me that vinifera vines are grafted about one inch above soil level “so we can cover the join and buds by earthing-up soil 18 inches at the start of winter to protect them from freezing.”
The Ingles have 12 acres of vines in front of the winery plus their original 20 acre ‘Ingle Vineyard’ planted solely to vinifera vines that dates from 1972. Because of increasing demand for Heron Hills’ wines, they also buy in suitable grapes from partner growers to produce 20,000 cases annually.
Access to the winery tower is one of the perks of joining Heron Hill’s wine club but I was invited to join owner John Ingle to taste through a range of wines.
The winery makes almost 20 different, mostly varietal, wines, including two excellent single vineyard Chardonnays.
The 2008 Unoaked ‘Ingle Vineyard’ was dry, clean and austere, while the oaked version underwent battonage in Easter European barrels and offered very integrated oak, delicious but not ‘buttery’ and with good acidity on finish.
2007 ‘Ingle Vineyard’ Riesling had just 1gL RS yet tasted sweet on the front palate leading into tropical fruits over minerality with a spicy and very long finish. “We are committed to Riesling,” says Ingle. “Passionate about Riesling!”
2007 ‘Ingle Vineyard’ Cabernet Franc was the highlight for me, with a beautiful rich ripe flavours and a silky finish. “It’s a field-blend,” John said. “We ordered Franc vines but when they were mature we found about 20% were Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle and in the Apple iBookstore.
Disclosure: Peter F May travelled to Finger Lakes at his own expense. While visiting wineries he was guest of the New York Wines & Grape Foundation.