Pinot Noir: The Heartbreak Grape

The Hudson Valley is one of the few regions where Pinot Noir can thrive, but it's not always easy.

Tousey Winery has a successful Hudson Valley pinot noir varietal. It’s won praise from outlets like Wine Enthusiast, New York Cork Report, Snooth and the East Coast Wineries blog. Ben and Kimberly Peacock, the winery’s co-owners, say Pinot Noir could become the signature grape of the Hudson River wine region.

So why do they also call it the “heartbreak grape?”

Let’s have Paul Giamatti’s character from Sideways answer that:

“It's a hard grape to grow. As you know. Right? It's, uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

Sideways’ release in 2004 has resulted in over a decade-long boom in demand for pinot noir, and the Hudson River wine region has taken advantage. It’s one of the corners of the world where pinot noir grapes can thrive. The weather is cool overall, and the terrain is hilly with rich soil. The closer a vineyard is to the Hudson River, the more insulated it can be from the harshest extremes of winter and summer.

It’s one of the corners of the world where pinot noir grapes can thrive. The weather is cool during the winter and hot during the summer, and the terrain is hilly with rich soil.

Pinot noir grapes, with their thin skins, need all the insulation they can get.

“A bad spring frost after the buds come out can kill them all and wipe you out,” says Ben. “Unless you have a good site, your yields are going to be all over the place.”

“We’re extremely careful to give it TLC throughout the year,” says Ben. “We don’t overcrop the vineyard, and we have very strict protocols to manage the flavor on the vine. Only the best grapes are being used, and we blend two different batches and yeasts to create a fruit-forward style.”

There sometimes is sticker-shock for wine drinkers who are used to liquor store prices. As the WSJ recently opined, it’s hard to find a good pinot noir in the $25-$40 range, since even in mass quantities it has to be made artisanally. Given that there’s so much risk, real estate and painstaking work that goes into making it, Tousey’s $26 price is actually a bargain.


As for the rest of the region, Kimberly says the Millbrook and Whitecliff wineries are also making strong Hudson Valley pinot noirs.

“We’re all in it together, there can be a lot of collaboration,” says Kimberly. “That’s what we’re trying to do in the Hudson Valley. The future should be bright.”