Finger Lakes Pinot Noir Tutorial

Pinot Noir is one of the five varieties we first planted in the Sheldrake Point vineyard 20 years ago; these are the vines you see first while gazing up from the meadow outside our Tasting Room. A Finger Lakes red, you ask? Absolutely. The cool climate of our AVA is on the same latitude as the region of France where this old world grape originated—the 10th most-planted variety in the world and one that is trending in popularity worldwide.

Pinot Noir Grape Tutorial

Pinot Noir hails from Burgundy, France, where all the red wines (except for Beaujolais) are made from this ancient black wine grape with clear pulp. The Pinot variety in general dates back 1,000 years, and its many mutations include Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, which first burst on the scene in the 1300’s. Within this Pinot variation there are over 40 different clones documented in the Catalogue of Grapevine Varieties and Clones, and about 15 of these clones are popular throughout the world because of their quality.

Pinot Noir, though, can be a challenge in the vineyard. Our cool, lingering spring and fall Finger Lakes seasons are textbook-ideal for this variety—but this also sets up the delicate fruit for danger from rot and freeze. The black, thin-skinned berries grow in tight clusters, making them susceptible to moisture as well as being ironically ill-suited to soaking up the sunshine that this variety craves.

Why would anyone trouble with it at all? Because the wine from Pinot Noir can be beautiful, sensuous, and oh-so-worth it.

In the Glass

Pinot Noir has great variation, with flavors ranging from cranberries to black cherries. A classic Finger Lakes Pinot Noir often leads with a very bright cherry fruit flavor reminiscent of fresh red cherries picked right off of the tree. An aged Finger Lakes Pinot, on the other hand, can develop into an earthier and more old-world style, with hints of mushroom, and forest floor aromas.

It is important to remember when enjoying any wine that color is not necessarily an indicator of quality—and this couldn’t be more true in the case of Pinot Noir.

The wine made from Pinot Noir is lighter in body and color than other reds, and is also lower in tannins. The “lightness” of Pinot Noir is not to be mistaken for weakness. This trait is further complicated by a classic Pinot Noir style versus a style currently popularized by a few producers in the Pacific Northwest.

Wine tasters visiting the Finger Lakes are sometimes confused by Pinot Noir. In the United States, labelling laws allow that when a wine is varietally labeled, only 75% of the wine has to be made from that grape. Some winemakers in other regions are blending 25% Syrah to 75% Pinot Noir. Adding the more intense, heavy Syrah to the lighter, softer Pinot Noir makes a delicious, but very different, product. Because this practice is common, this flavor profile is often mistaken for the standard.

The confusion arises in the Finger Lakes because winemakers in our region typically use 100% Pinot Noir, resulting in a lighter-colored and softer in-tannin wine, reminiscent of the classic Burgundian style. It is important to remember when enjoying any wine that color is not necessarily an indicator of quality—and this couldn’t be more true in the case of Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir Wine Characteristics
Courtesy of

Cranberry, Cherry, Raspberry

Vanilla, clove, licorice, mushroom, wet leaves, tobacco, cola, caramel

Light enough for seafood, but complex enough for richer meats. When ordering wine for the table at a restaurant where everyone’s meal is different, choose Pinot Noir; it will make everyone happy.

Medium Low

Medium High

Cool to touch – 63 ºF (6 ºC)

Age 2-18 years.

Pinot Noir at Sheldrake Point

Today we grow about 8 acres of Pinot Noir at Sheldrake Point, and sell the majority of it as juice to other producers. Only a very small amount is kept for our own production.

Whereas Riesling is known to provide a good expression of terroir, Pinot Noir is the other side of that same coin. Climate affects Pinot Noir perhaps more than any other grape. The vine itself is finicky; it needs almost perfect conditions, suffering in weather extremes. It can be, to say the least, a challenge to maintain in the vineyard.

Pinot Noir also tests winemakers, who make it out of love for the potential of the end product. Winemaker Dave Breeden recalls that in 2014 the grapes were gorgeous and the exact chemistry he wanted—allowing him to bring back our single-vineyard BLK3 Pinot Noir.

The release of that wine will be later this year. In the meantime, we have a very limited quantity of the 2013 Pinot Noir still available in the Tasting Room. Don’t miss out on this delicious vintage!

2013 Pinot Noir Tasting Notes

The nose opens with tart cherry and hints of mocha. Cranberry and other red fruits dominate the palate, followed by a gravelly finish.

Winemaker Notes

Pinot Noir grapes from Sheldrake Point Winery’s vineyard were blended with fruit from a Seneca Lake vineyard to produce this one-of-a-kind wine. After aging for over 18 months in oak, the wine was bottled unfiltered on September 30, 2015.

Christine Maguire, Tasting Room Manager

Born and raised in Upstate New York, it took Christine leaving the state for her university studies to truly appreciate the singular beauty of the Finger Lakes.  She comes to Sheldrake Point after five years at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, during which she was able to direct her passion for food & wine into a career in the hospitality industry. Additionally, while there she earned her Level 2 Certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and joined the board of the Finger Lakes Chapter of Women for WineSense.  She is excited to share her love of Finger Lakes wine with guests of the Sheldrake Point Tasting Room.