“2010 Syrah. That was it. That’s what did it for me. That was the best wine I had tasted in the Finger Lakes at the time. It was then that I knew I had to be a part of Hector Wine Company.” I’m catching up with Alexandra Bond, winemaker, co-owner, partner, at Hector Wine Company on Seneca Lake, you guessed it, in Hector, NY. At the time, in 2010, she wasn’t part of the HWC family. Alexandra worked her way up through the industry; her story is one of perseverance and a passion for wine and winemaking. She “chose” Hector Wine Company, but they also chose her, by having her learn how to do everything the hard way, the right way, sometimes by making small mistakes only to adjust to the correct processes along the way.
In speaking with Alexandra, one thing that stands out to me is how she has come into her current role. Truly, a mix of hard work, determination, and an organic passion about winemaking, and specifically about the Finger Lakes wine community, have all lead to her role. It wasn’t until a job in New York City did Finger Lakes wine get on her radar. She didn’t major in oenology in college, she did everything she could to get a foot in the door here in the Finger Lakes, and eventually landed a do-it-all job at Thirsty Owl Wine Company on Cayuga Lake, after a very brief gig doing grunt work at another vineyard on Seneca Lake for only a week. Once she secured an assistant winemaker job here at HWC 6 years ago, it still took many, many years to learn the trade, the craft, and learn the nuances of working with the wine to create a product she and Hector Wine Company were proud of.
Alexandra Bond and Justin Boyette – Winemakers at Hector Wine Company
Hector, NY is a small town, but a large part of the even larger Finger Lakes wine community. Hector is also one of those wine communities where everyone knows everyone. A hug is the norm in Hector, like you’re amongst friends and family because you probably are. On top of that though, Hector Wine Company really is a community hub. That same warmth only continues whether you’re a stranger or a regular. It’s here that in addition to tasting and purchasing wine, you can also try Finger Lakes beer, local cider, local cheese, or grab a glass of wine after work. Quick tip if you’re visiting: HWC stays open later than other wineries, which is another reason it is even more entrenched as a hub of the local community.
The Tasting Room at Hector Wine Company
Hector Wine Company is known for their red wines: the Essence has Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. There’s the Syrah. There’s also a Merlot (single varietal) coming out very soon, as well as a Lemberger in the future (my favorite!). Over the years, the Finger Lakes has been perceived as a Riesling mecca, and much better at making white than red wine. Alexandra begs to differ, though, “We really are known for our red wines. Our Essence sells out every year. And we’re growing more and more red varietals every year to try to keep up with the demand!” There’s a bit of a secret though: climate and terroir.
When you talk about Hector Wine Company, it’s essential to have Sawmill Creek Vineyard in the same sentence. Most of HWC’s wine is from (the growers at) Sawmill Creek Vineyard. They really are tied at the hip. In fact, Jason Hazlitt, co-owner of Hector Wine Company, and his extended family have owned the Sawmill Creek land since 1852. That’s well over 150 years of growers here in the Finger Lakes. Today, well over two dozen wineries purchase grapes from Sawmill Creek. Hector Wine Company is unique, though, in that Jason is a 7 th generation grower at Sawmill Creek but also co-owner of Hector Wine Company.
Jason Hazlitt, 7th Generation Grower & Co-owner of Hector Wine Company
But, why Sawmill Creek? And why do so many wineries choose to purchase their grapes from them Remember that Syrah I mentioned earlier? This goes hand-in-hand with that Syrah – and why it was so popular and so distinct. If you’re reading this, you may be familiar with how climate, terrain, soil, and weather all impact vineyards and varietals year-to-year. Sawmill Creek lies in what’s affectionately known as the “Banana Belt” of the Finger Lakes. It is here, on the east/southeast side of Seneca Lake that the climate is notably and measurably warmer, with the greatest amount of sun. Additionally, Seneca Lake – the deepest of the Finger Lakes – is, in fact, at it’s deepest parallel to where Sawmill Creek meets the shore. This inherently creates a warming effect on the vineyard; which is exactly why varietals like Syrah, Merlot, and others grow well, specifically in this microclimate.
We know Hector Wine Company can do red wine very well, but what about the whites? Their Pinot Blanc and Riesling are both remarkable. I don’t say that lightly, either. In fact, I’ll put my own palate to the test here: this April I participated in a blind Riesling tasting. Twelve were local, and three were from other parts of North America. All wines were poured into unlabeled bottles, and the answers were disclosed at the end of the tasting. Out of 15 Rieslings, Hector Wine Company’s Riesling was tied for 1 st – evaluating body, structure, and balance. There are only a handful of wineries making Pinot Blanc in the Finger Lakes, HWC is one of them. To read more about only a few of Hector Wine Company’s wines – including those reds I keep mentioning, check the end of this piece.
Hector Wine Company stands out to me in a sea of growers/producers, wineries, and vineyards here as a community winery doing things how they should be done: sorting by hand, minimal intervention, and all with sustainable practices. Often times, this lets the fruit speak for itself, but it also lets the artists, the scientists – the winemakers – have the control to create a product that they truly enjoy and want to share. “Our slogan,” said Alexandra, “is ‘Wine Made With Soul.’ It’s also our hashtag, but we really do try to impart this in everything we do!”
HWC is growing with not only more red wine production, new equipment, but also with new customers and new business practices. Everything from the customer experience to the important hospitality side of the wine industry has been improved. What I love most about Hector Wine Company though – aside from their truly great wine – is the sense of family and community as soon as you walk in the door. Whether it’s being greeted by one of their dogs, or greeted with a glass of Syrah, you’ll feel like you’re part of the community that is Hector Wine Company. The next time you hear that the Finger Lakes “can’t” do red wine – remember Hector Wine Company; trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Continue reading to hear more about a few options available now at Hector Wine Company
2016 Pinot Blanc:
From Hector Wine Company: A smooth white wine made from 100% handpicked Pinot Blanc grapes. Fermented and aged in French oak, this dry white is rich and complex while still maintaining freshness and verve.
My take: HWC is one of the few wineries doing Pinot Blanc in the Finger Lakes. It’s deliciously dry, but with very noticeable fruit as well. Beautiful citrus and tropical fruit, and just a touch of waxiness on the body. A bit of sweet pear too; even though it’s aged in oak, the body and feel is certainly not an overly oaked white wine. Most distinct, perhaps, is the smoothness and feel present in this Pinot Blanc. There’s a beautiful, austere viscosity that is difficult to achieve, but that you get in this Pinot Blanc. The acid connects with the fruit to round out an incredibly smooth and subtle, well structured, white wine.
From Hector Wine Company: Essence is a full bodied Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. All grapes are handpicked and hand-sorted and each barrel is carefully selected for a perfectly balanced blend.
My take: This Essence is Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cabernet Franc (27%), and Merlot (18%). Red berries and dark fruit, both, coming through. There’s an herby, spicy, earthy tone, that gives way to a smoothness later, but the Cabernet Sauvignon is very apparent on the nose too. Similar to the Syrah, blind, this could be mistaken for a French/Old World blend. There are layers of noticeable fruit, each varietal can be teased out, but yet the blend is succinct and distinct. This one sells quickly, and for good reason. This is a great cuvee for anyone who says “Finger Lakes can’t do reds.”
From Hector Wine Company: Made from 100% handpicked Syrah grapes, this vintage reflects a Northern Rhone style. Fermented using indigenous yeast with no fining or filtering, the Syrah has great expression of terroir and varietal character.
My take: It’s a beautiful dark Ruby. Up front, you get thick dark cherries, blackberries, lead, graphite, and a hint of tart but vibrant minerality. But it jumps, quickly, to a smokier sweeter cedar-like burst! The body fills. More oak, great tannins, a luscious, delicious mouth coat and feel. The length is glorious. I don’t know if it’s because 2016 was a drought, or because they’re just THAT good, but this is one to seek out, friends. This, along with a couple of others from nearby locations (and for some, the same vineyard on Seneca Lake), are undoubtedly the best Syrah options in the Finger Lakes. It’s just a touch young right now, but still remarkable. This will show even more beautifully, somehow, with even another year or two.
Photo Credit: Chandra Russell