IPNC Master Class 2016: Australian Pinot Noir

IPNC Master Class 2016: Australian Pinot Noir

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International Pinot Noir Celebration

One of the finest wine events in the world happens at the end of July every year in Willamette Valley. The International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) brings together pinot noir lovers from around the world to focus on the best of the variety over four days.

On the first night, host wineries from across Willamette Valley feature their own wines as well as those of guest wineries from other regions with food made by some of the best chefs of the Pacific Northwest. Festivities take off on the second and third days with a mix of off campus vineyard visits and seminars as well as on campus classes and tastings. The main event is the Grand Seminar, a master class on whatever aspect of pinot noir takes the stage that year.

In 2016, pinot noir of Australia won the focus bringing 14 of the best examples of the country as well as many of the winemakers behind them.

Australia: Pinot Noir Master Class

IPNC Australia Master Class

from left: Tom Carson, Michael Hill Smith, James Halliday

Panel hosts James Halliday, Michael Hill Smith and Tom Carson guided the 400+ person audience each of two days through an in-depth look at 14 Australian pinot noirs grown from sub-zones of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Additionally winemakers Michael Dhillon, Peter Dawson, Mac Forbes and Mike Symons spoke about their regions and wines standing from the audience.

Michael Hill Smith, the first person to pass the Master of Wine exam in Australia, moderated the session guiding us through a thorough-going discussion of pinot noir in Australia as well as of the 14 wines presented and their regions. Wines were poured in two flights of seven. Additionally, the IPNC team offered us an impressive booklet of information to round out the master class concept of the seminar.

History and Conditions of Australian Pinot Noir

As described by Michael Hill Smith and James Halliday, pinot noir arrived in Australia within the original collection of grapevine cuttings to reach the continent, the Busby collection of 1831. The first cuttings were taken from Clos Vougeot and has established itself throughout pinot noir regions of the country as clone MV6 (Mother Vine 6 – so bad ass).

First attempts to succeed with pinot in Australia proved difficult so the variety did not truly take hold until the last century. Much of its growth has occurred since the 1960s. By 2015, 4948 hectares of pinot noir were planted with 43,223 tonnes produced that year across the country by 950 growers and winemakers. Today the focus in Australia is to make site expressive pinot noir, rather than attempting to emulate other regions.

Much of the pinot noir planted in Australia has been established with own-root vines. However, in the last decades phylloxera has taken hold in some of the pinot noir producing regions. Strict quarantines of those regions has helped slow its progress but nevertheless, vintners of Australia are now forced to grapple with finding best rootstocks in the midst of losing old vine sites.

Australian Pinot Noir Regions and the Wines

The Australian contingent IPNC

front left Mike Symons, sitting beside Michael Dhillon; front right Peter Dawson sitting beside Mac Forbes

REGION: Yarra Valley

Our tasting for the Grand Seminar began with a focus on the province of Victoria and a first look at its sub-region the Yarra Valley. As we were informed, 135 wineries produce pinot noir in the region an hour east from Melbourne. The region hosts a predominately continental climate with moderate to steep hillsides between 50 and 1000 meters in elevation. Soils tend towards ancient sandy clay loam and younger red volcanics.

WINE: Coldstream Hills 2015 Deer Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir Yarra Valley Victoria

Coldstream Hills was founded in 1985 by James Halliday and has since become part of the Treasury Wine Estates. The primary focus for Coldstream Hills rests with pinot noir and chardonnay with also some production of merlot, sauvignon blanc and shiraz as well.

The Deer Farm Vineyard pinot from Coldstream Hills is made when vintage conditions support single vineyard quality. In 2015 it was made with 50% new puncheons. The wine features a perfumed and herbal lift from a body of zesty, mixed red and dark fruits and a long mineral-spice spine offering plenty of concentration on an otherwise lighter bodied wine.

WINE: * Mac Forbes 2014 Woori Yallock Pinot Noir Yarra Valley Victoria

Mac Forbes established his eponymous brand after having worked previously at the iconic Mount Mary in the Yarra, with Dirk Niepoort in Portugal, and in vineyards throughout Austria. His focus remains primarily with pinot noir while also being known for his chardonnay and riesling.

In the Yarra Valley the 2014 vintage brought the concentration and focus of the smaller bunches with the hens-and-chicks berries of a wet and windy spring. The 2014 Woori Yallock carries subtle and lifted aromatics with an ultra stimulating and lighter bodied palate washed through with finessed mixed fruits, tons of sapidity, nuance and length.

WINE: Mount Mary Vineyard 2013 Pinot Noir Yarra Valley Victoria 

Founded in 1971 by the late John Middleton, today Mount Mary Vineyards hosts John’s grandson, Sam Middleton, as winemaker. Mount Mary holds one of the finest reputations for Australian pinot noir, considered a leader in the early contemporary push to understand quality expressions of the variety in the country.

With broader aromatics and palate than the other two Yarra Valley pinots, the Mount Mary 2013 shows the attributes of a slightly warmer vintage. It offers an ultra long zesty palate lifted by a perfume of cultivated flowers sprinkled through with spice. Lots of sapidity and silky tannin carry through a long finish.

REGION: Mornington Peninsula

With 80 wineries in the Mornington Peninsula producing pinot noir, the region sits an hour southeast of Melbourne. Sitting alongside the Southern Ocean, the Peninsula hosts a maritime climate with gently rolling slopes and a mix of soils.

WINE: * Stonier Family Vineyard 2015 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Victoria

Founded in 1978, Stonier stands as one of the founding wineries of the Mornington Peninsula. The focus rests in pinot noir and chardonnay made by winemaker Mike Symons.

The Stonier 2015 presents compact and earthy with a zesty red fruit palate and a long stimulating finish. A pleasure.

WINE: Paringa Estate 2014 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Victoria 

Established in 1985 by winemaker Lindsay McCall, Paringa Estate established both pinot noir and shiraz in an abandoned orchard of the Mornington Peninsula. Not yet available in the United States. 

Full of zesty fruit, the 2014 Paringa Estate offers a compact and focused palate with lots of sapidity and a long spiced finish.

WINE: Yabby Lake 2013 Block 2 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Victoria

Founded by the Kirby Family in 1998, Tom Carson serves as the Yabby Lake winemaker with a focus on pinot noir and chardonnay. Not yet available in the United States. 

Aromatics with just a hint of funk turn to musk on the palate with a mineral sprinkled focus on zesty fruit and a long wash of acidity.

REGION: Macedon Ranges

One of the smallest and youngest areas for pinot noir in Australia, the Macedon Ranges an hour and a half north of Melbourne, host 37 wineries producing pinot noir. The area celebrates a cool to cold continental climate with elevated vineyard standing 500m above sea level in a mix of extremely old soils of mudstone, sandstone mixed through with quartz and other volcanics.

WINE: * Bindi 2014 Kaye Pinot Noir Macedon Ranges Victoria

One of the hallmark pinot noir producers of Victoria, Bindi helped bring attention to the quality wine possible from the Macedon Ranges. Established in 1988 by father and son team Bill and Michael Dhillon. Today, Michael continues the legacy he began with his late father with a focus on estate grown pinot noir and chardonnay.

The Bindi 2014 Kaye carries an earthy mix of perfumed dark fruits and a sense of delicacy through ample concentration riding all the way through a long finish. Tactile and stimulating tannin and a palate full of sapidity, this wine offers a nice balance of finesse, complexity and length.

Tasting in flights, IPNC

REGION: Gippsland

38 wineries make pinot noir in Gippsland two and a half hours east of Melbourne.

WINE: Bass Phillip 2013 Premium Pinot Noir Gippsland Victoria

Founded in 1979 by Phillip Jones to make small quantities of artisanal pinot noir, Bass Phillip relies on high density planting in an ultra cool climate.

Notes of musk and forest floor and a lengthy waft of perfume move on the palate to zesty, mineral-tumbled notes with a lengthy finish.

REGION: Geelong

50 wineries produce pinot in the Geelong region of Victoria just an hour southwest of Melbourne just opposite Port Phillip Bay from Mornington.

WINE: * By Farr 2012 Sangreal Pinot Noir Geelong Victoria

Established in 1994 by Gary Farr, By Farr quickly became one of the best known and respected producers of the country. Son Nick Farr today serves as winemaker making estate pinot noir with a focus on whole bunch fermentation.

Notes of pit fruit tested by citrus on the nose are accented by hints of cigar box and touches of forest floor with dried rose leaf in the mouth. A lovely light frame with impressive complexity.

REGION: Tasmania

124 wineries make pinot in Tasmania. The region is known primarily for two established growing zones, the Coal River Valley and the Huon Valley. The Coal River Valley in the southern part of the island is both cool and dry leading to low disease pressure and good fruit quality. The Huon Valley is the southernmost and coolest portion of the island with a wet maritime climate and a small concentration of vineyard plantings. Tasmania as a whole is both cold and relatively dry with a relatively long season.

WINE: Home Hill 2014 Estate Pinot Noir Tasmania

Terry and Rosemary Bennet established Home Hill Estate to pinot noir in 1994 with Gilli and Paul Lipscombe today serving as winemakers. Eventually chardonnay and sylvaner were also added. Not yet available in the United States. 

Notes of dried leaves and flowers move into a musky palate with plenty of length and a focus on intrigue.

WINE: * Tolpuddle Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Tasmania

Tolpuddle Vineyard was originally established in 1988 and were purchased in 2011 by Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw. The site sits in the Coal River Valley with a focus on pinot noir.

Note of musk and rose potpourri with plum and cherry pits and a flash of nectarine carry nose through a long, stimulating palate.

WINE: Dawson James 2014 Pinot Noir Tasmania

Founded in 2010 by Peter Dawson and Tim James, Dawson James has already had success with pinot noir from Tasmania. Not yet available in the United States. 

Fresh cut peach and cherry with a focused presentation and zesty, mineral length, the Dawson James 2014 offers nice purity with plenty of concentration and a lithe frame.

REGION: Adelaide Hills South Australia

74 wineries produce pinot noir in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. The Piccadilly Valley hosts the Ashton Hills winery represented at IPNC, and offers the coolest growing conditions of the larger region sitting at around 570 meters of elevation. The area is greeted by rainfall throughout the season.

WINE: * Ashton Hills 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills South Australia

Founded in 1982 by Stephen George, who still serves too as winemaker, Ashton Hills has worked extensively with the range of pinot noir clones available in Australia to identify the best suited cuttings for the region. Today he relies on five. In 2015, George sold his estate to Wirra Wirra and still lives on the property offering insight to the practice.

Showing evergreen freshness throughout and a spiced jalapeño snap the 2014 Ashton Hills is intriguing, distinctive and savory with accents of forest floor and a long finish.

REGION: Southern Fleurieu South Australia

With only 3 wineries producing pinot noir, the Fleurieu Peninsula succeeds with the variety primarily in the highest and coolest elevations. The area is very maritime with extremely old sand stones and in the Foggy Hill Vineyard very low fruiting wines to stay close to the warmth of the stoney surface.

WINE: Tapanappa 2012 Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir Southern Fleurieu South Australia

Established in 2002 by Briane and Ann Croser, Tapanappa is one of the very few wineries of Southern Fleurieu making pinot noir. Brian serves as winemaker with a focus on pinot from the Foggy Hill Vineyard, considered a founding vineyard in the region for the variety. Tapanappa also works with other warmer sites to grow cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, and chardonnay. Not yet available in the United States. 

With notes of candied melon and powdered berry (not sweet) on the nose flavors of spiced chili and a savory core appear on the palate with lightly tactile tannin and an ultra long finish. Distinctive.

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