From the Finger Lakes to Long Island, New York’s winegrowers are crafting acclaimed Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot that can be found in top restaurants and wine shops around the world. But these four varieties just scratch the surface of New York’s winemaking prowess. In fact, it is one of the most diverse wine growing states in America, producing outstanding wines from a wide range of grape varieties, including Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is one of the most notoriously difficult grapes to cultivate, but in New York’s cool climates it flourishes. When Morten Hallgren, founder and winemaker at Ravines Wine Cellars moved to the Finger Lakes in 1999, it was still the most widely-planted red grape variety in terms of acreage. As head winemaker at iconic Finger Lakes winery Dr. Konstantin Frank on Keuka Lake, it only took him one vintage to recognize Pinot Noir’s potential for greatness in this region. “It’s one of the few places in the world where Pinot Noir actually tastes and smells like what traditional Pinot Noir should,” he says, presumably referring to the wines of Burgundy, the region most classically associated with the Pinot Noir grape.
Today, while plantings of Pinot Noir have declined since the late 1990s – only 200 acres are planted in the Finger Lakes, 100 acres are planted in Long Island, and about 10 acres are planted in the Hudson Valley – you can still find excellent Pinot Noir across the state. Below are four producers making beautiful expressions of New York Pinot Noir worth seeking out.
Element Winery (Finger Lakes)
At Element Winery, Winemaker and Master Sommelier, Christopher Bates takes inspiration from some of the finest wine regions in the world, including Burgundy, Chablis, Hermitage, Germany, and Chinon. However, he doesn’t try to mimic them. Instead, his aim is to produce high-quality wines that are genuinely reflective of the place where they originate. His goal is to guide the wine to be what it is capable of, not force his will upon the wine. The result is a stunning range of wines that showcase the unique character of the region, each with its own distinct personality, yet all unmistakably from the Finger Lakes.
Since founding Element Winery in 2009, Christopher has worked with various Pinot Noir sites across the Finger Lakes. After working with seven or eight different sites, he’s homed in on a vineyard on the east side of Seneca Lake as his preferred source of Pinot Noir, thanks to the site’s gravelly soils. This particular site has become the primary source for the bulk of his Pinot Noir bottling.
Ravines Wine Cellars (Finger Lakes)
Located on the west side of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region, Ravines Wine Cellars is a family-owned winery founded by European oenologist/winemaker Morten Hallgren and his wife Lisa, a patron of the culinary arts. In 2000, they purchased a 17-acre parcel of land on a glacier-carved hillside of Seneca Lake, fully committed to unlocking the region’s great potential. Since then, they have dedicated themselves to crafting elegant wines that reflect their terroir, using Old World winemaking techniques and New World innovation.
The Ravines portfolio features Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, among other bottlings, with a focus on vibrancy, precision, and minerality. With a keen focus on Pinot Noir, the Hallgrens now own 18 acres of Pinot vineyards, with two acres located near their Geneva winery, and 16 acres on the east side of Seneca Lake (north of Element Winery’s source). In addition, they work with another eight acres sourced from a local grower in the southeast of Seneca Lake. Despite the challenges posed by working with multiple acres of this finicky grape, the results speak for themselves. Ravines’ Pinot Noir is sublime, with the various vineyards contributing distinct characteristics to their sparkling wine, rosé, and varietal wine. Overall, this dedicated family winery has elevated Finger Lakes winemaking and shown the region’s true potential.
Millbrook Vineyards & Winery (Hudson Valley)
Back in 1982, John Dyson made a bold move by purchasing the 130-acre Wing Dairy Farm in Millbrook, New York for his first vineyard and winemaking business. The location was ideal for viticulture with its gravelly soil and southwest facing slopes. The site of what is now the highly-regarded Millbrook Vineyards & Winery had its first plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot in 1983, making it the region’s first vineyard solely dedicated to vinifera grapes.
Today, spread over 30 acres (6 of which are Pinot Noir), Millbrook Vineyards & Winery produces between 10-15,000 cases of wine each year. Over the years, John and Kathe Dyson have also purchased other highly-regarded properties across the globe, including Williams Selyem, the prestigious Russian River Valley winery that’s arguably one of the best producers of Pinot Noir in the United States.
McCall Wines (Long Island)
McCall Wines, located in the charming village of Cutchogue on Long Island’s North Fork, is a family-owned winery founded by Russ McCall. With over 20 years of experience in grape growing, Russ knows that patience and commitment are crucial elements in making top-notch wine. That’s why he waited until he had something truly special before putting his family name on a bottle. In 2007, Russ released his first wine that embodied his vision of high-quality Long Island Pinot Noir.
The sandy southern end of Russ’s vineyard is planted with 11 acres of Pinot Noir, comprising four clones selected from French clonal varieties grown in the Willamette Valley, making it one of the largest Pinot Noir vineyards on the East Coast. But it’s not just about quantity; it’s about quality. Russ and team take meticulous care of all aspects of the wine-making process to ensure that only the finest wine is produced.
With his unwavering commitment to excellence, it’s no wonder that McCall Wines has become a go-to destination for wine lovers seeking the very best Pinot Noir that Long Island has to offer.