Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes

By Martha Gioumousis

Pinot Noir is the famed grape of Burgundy and a cool climate variety—making it ideal to grow in the Finger Lakes. Except it’s a challenging grape to grow—and it’s a challenging wine to make.

It all starts in the vineyard, where Pinot Noir is an early bloomer, making it susceptible to frost damage. Then the grape clusters are tight, so there is more disease pressure due to limited airflow around the fruit. And the grapes are also more susceptible to disease.

Many winemakers hand pick the fruit and then sort extensively, removing any rotten fruit by hand. Yields are greatly reduced, driving up the final cost of production and, thus, the bottle price as well.

Winemakers are challenged to produce a Pinot Noir with a rich dark color, especially if there is rot present in the grapes, which robs the wine of color. Many will add enzymes or oak products to alleviate the problem. Other challenges include lightness of flavor and high acidity.

Among the lighter-bodied red wines available in the Finger Lakes, Pinot Noir wines are characterized by fruity aromas and flavors, light tannins and limited use of new oak. Most producers reserve their costly French oak barrels for Pinot, even while choosing American oak for other varietals.


Martha Gioumousis is a winemaker, wine writer and editor of Finger Lakes Wine Gazette and coordinator for the Tompkins County Community Beautification Program.

This article appeared in our 2018 Wine Edition. 

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