New Zealand

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Rippon

Nick Mills at Rippon on the shores of Lake Wanaka

On the shores of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago stands Rippon. While the property hosts what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful (and most photographed) vineyard sites in the world, Rippon itself is importantly not just a vineyard. The site is owned and operated by the Mills family, with today the fifth generation beginning its stewardship of the land under the philosophy of the place as a complete farm.

It was Rolfe and Lois Mills who originally established vineyards at Rippon becoming, alongside Ann Pinckney and Alan Brady, the first to both plant vines and successfully release commercial wines from the region. Together Rolfe, Ann, and Alan worked to solve the viticultural challenges of a genuinely cold climate at a time when not only had no one grown modern vines there (and the world thought it impossible) but also none of the supplies typically associated with vineyard life were readily available. Once the vines were established, the three of them also set about solving the logistics of how to make wine. As a result, Rolfe and Alan were the first to make Pinot Noir commercially from Central Otago while at the same time Ann focused her efforts on Gewurztraminer.

Today, Lois Mills continues to work with Rolfe’s and her children to steward Rippon. Her grandchildren, while still young, are being raised into the farming life as well. The original vines established at Rippon in the early 1980s continue today – seen in the photo above near the lake – and go into both the original vine single vineyard bottling, Tinker’s Field, as well as serve as a portion of the Rippon Old Vines Pinot Noir.

Nick Mills serves as lead winemaker for the estate and helps to guide the overarching business as well. As he explains, the idea of a complete farm is one of the core guiding principles for Rippon but it also reaches back in inspiration to historical necessity.

It was Nick’s grandfather, Percy Sargood who originally purchased Wanaka Station in 1912, naming it for his grandmother Emma Rippon. The remoteness of the site meant supplies that would otherwise ease the farming were not readily available and work had to be done not with machines as much as horses and hand. But employing animals and your fellow man to help with farm work also meant farming the food to feed them, and build the facilities to house them too. Wanaka Station, then, operated as not only its own farm but in a sense a complete village growing and producing all the aspects needed for life in a remote region. In the midst of it all was the community hall where everyone of Rippon would eat together.

While transportation and technology have lessened the apparent remoteness of Wanaka, the vision of a complete farm has persisted at Rippon. Nick describes ideas of biodynamics as further inspiration for how they interpret this vision of farming today but the sense of community and camaraderie implicit in his description also proves consistent with stories in the region about his father Rolfe. For those that knew and worked with him, Rolfe is often described as a thoughtful man, and even a kind of spiritual figure, not in the religious sense but instead in his care for encouraging people to work together. The collaborative efforts of the region’s founders are one such example.

As Nick describes, Rippon is not merely the vineyard but a place with its own personality or identity, as well as its own voice. The influence of the surrounding geography, the soil architecture, the overall climate, the people that steward the land, the flora and fauna already growing there all operate as part of that unique place. By seeing the property in this way from the start the place must be respected as a sort of individual with its own needs, health, character, and forms of expression. Such an idea can also be seen today more broadly percolating through New Zealand culture. The country recently granted one of its major rivers the same legal rights as a human being.

In practical terms, such an approach means not just a shift in perspective – the place or the river are not just for any person’s selfish use but instead is something one has a relationship with that must be cared for – but also turning ones farming choices into parts of a bigger picture with a longer term goal of sustainability. At Rippon, farming is thought of in terms of a complete annual cycle.

Farming vines to produce wine, for example, is asking of the plants a type of production that would not occur otherwise in nature, but even so is also part of sustaining the overall farm. The vineyard, then, is a form of compromise or reconciliation between the needs of the vine and the needs of the farm. In asking the vines to produce grapes for wine they must also be provided with the nutrients, care and support they need to not only grow fruit but also begin the next growing cycle with the same health, nutrients and energy with which they started the previous. Farming, then, turns from a form of depleting the plant until it cannot give any more, as is seen in much commercial agriculture, to an investment in the long term health of the vine. Such health is sustained, for example, through annual practices such as compost, homeopathic teas for the vineyard, and cover crops.

As Nick explains, Rippon was started with a love for the land first. As a farm it had to be asked again and again what the best use of the land was for the place. The ongoing love for the land inspires that process of continuing to reconcile asking something of the land with returning to it what it needs.

Walking Tinker’s Field, the section planted by the Mills in the early 1980s, and tasting fruit a few weeks ago, the Pinot Noir was not yet ready for harvest. It would be another two weeks before they would pick. But even so there was something wonderfully satisfying in biting into the seeds of the grapes. They were toasted and woodsy, earthy and flavorful without being aggressively astringent. It’s a description rarely appropriate to the seeds of not-quite-ready fruit on the vine. Later, in tasting last year’s vintage from tank of the same block, and then later a few vintages of Tinker’s Field I suddenly recognized that same flavor and feel layered into the wine. It’s what Nick would call the voice of Rippon echoing there from vineyard to wine, the seeds one unique expression of the place of the farm.

Rippon “Rippon: Mature Vine” Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago 13%

Savory and earthy aromatics with impressive complexity and depth – hints of crushed, dry cocoa, a mix of forest and bramble notes, mixed fresh berries, earth – are followed on the palate by firm, chalky tannin that gain suppleness and pleasure with air, mouthwatering palate stimulation and nice length. With air, that chalky tannin marries to the fresh, high tone acidity of the region for a long, pure finish. There are flavors of cocoa, gunmetal and a mix of dark fruits – black plum skin, fresh black currant, and a squeeze of fresh blackberry – but the wine is more about earthy, woodsy (as in forest and dried grasses) notes than fruit. There is pleasing depth and natural concentration here coupled with a fresh, purity and energy that feels distinctive and expressive of Rippon. This is still a profoundly young, while also complex and beautiful wine. It will no doubt age and develop nicely with time in bottle. If opening now allow it plenty of air, and time in decanter – would be best enjoyed slowly over the course of the evening or meal as there is plenty to compel you as the wine continues to evolve, and that palate stimulation will do well with food.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

2

Driving Gibbston Valley with Alan Brady

walking Monte Rosa Lodge Vineyard in Gibbston Valley, the highest elevation vineyard in Central Otago

When he started planting vines in Gibbston Valley at the start of the 1980s, not only was Alan Brady establishing the first vineyards in the subzone, he was one of the first outsiders to move into the area in generations. Gibbston Valley had been populated by sheep farmers who farmed their flocks on expanses of land passed on to the next generation and then the next. Local crops were just that, local, generally used simply to feed the families that also farmed them. Alan’s goal, on the other hand, was to grow grape vines that could become a commercial venture, wine that could be enjoyed not only by he and his family but perhaps even abroad.

When she’d started planting in Dalefield several years earlier, Ann Pinckney had asked farmers throughout Central Otago what they’d noticed about weather and ripening patterns in the region. They told her crops in Gibbston Valley were generally ready ten days sooner than closer to Queenstown, where she’d planted, and crops in Bannockburn or through the Cromwell Basin were ready ten days sooner than Gibbston Valley. Queenstown was colder than Gibbston Valley, and Gibbston Valley colder than Bannockburn, in other words. She’d managed to ripen vines in her area near Queenstown so Gibbston Valley would too.

Even with Ann and Alan’s work, today many producers disagree. Subsequent generations of winemakers tend to say the area adequately ripens fruit only one out of three vintages. The other years, common knowledge goes, the fruit is too green and high acid, underripe due to colder weather.

Alan disagrees. The area ripens fruit. It is instead, he says, a matter of patience. In colder vintages, he explains, vines simply take longer to ripen but they always do. While many more people have since established vines in Gibbston Valley and the subregion is now full of outsiders, in truth, no one else has more experience with the area than Alan Brady.

On the day Alan and I drive and walk vineyards together, most producers have just finished picking Pinot Noir in the Cromwell Basin. In Gibbston Valley, we walk the highest elevation vineyard in all of Central Otago, at 470 meters it is one of the colder sites in a colder growing zone. Here Alan sources fruit for his small production wine label, Wild Irishman. Clusters in the rows we walk are all hens and chicks – differing sized berries – and the seeds are not yet lignified. As we taste through the rows I ask how long he thinks until he picks. A week to ten days, he says, the same timing as Ann Pinckney’s farmers’ expectations. When I ask he confirms, the site has successfully ripened fruit each of the several years since he started working with it. It’s also never been frosted.

Alan Brady with a bottle of Pinot from the site he first planted in Gibbston Valley and the first Pinot made there

It is also clear Alan’s claim that Gibbston ripens every year is at least partially a stylistic one.

The first Pinot of Central Otago came from its cold outer reaches of Gibbston Valley (through Alan’s first winery named for its valley home) and Wanaka (via Rolfe and Lois Mills Rippon). Along with Ann’s Taramea, these earliest wines first proved Central Otago could successfully grow grape vines and make commercially viable wines. When the area’s wines managed to gain attention as far afield as the United Kingdom in the early 1990s, outside investors began moving in to establish new vineyards not only in Alan’s Gibbston Valley but also further inland first into the Bannockburn subzone of the Cromwell Basin. Thanks to these outsiders, today, there are numerous tasting rooms in Gibbston Valley. It’s closer proximity to Queenstown makes it prime real estate for tourists. Even so, thanks to its warmer temperatures, there is more vineyard development in the Cromwell Basin

It was there, in the comparatively warmer Cromwell Basin, the wines that gave Central Otago its more substantial global reputation in the late 1990s and 2000s were grown. Through these newer plantings, Central Otago made its reputation with wines of generosity, Pinot with plenty of extraction and size. The earliest vineyards of the region were also established in its coldest spots. As the region grew, newer winemakers tended to make wines using techniques to increase the fruit’s natural palate presence relying on ripeness, plenty of oak, proportions of whole cluster and work during fermentation to pull more substance from the grapes. Alan’s own Gibbston Valley wines in the 1990s and early 2000s included 100% whole cluster and 100% new oak with plenty of ripeness.

Even so, in the coolest of years, wines grown in Gibbston Valley don’t readily lend themselves to balance at larger size. Earlier in the region, balance with bigger size tended to be gained by blending fruit from multiple sites. Vineyard designate wines have only become a more common venture in recent years.

As Central Otago has evolved, the stylistic range has also diversified to include fresher wines with more site transparency. But even for those that avoid over extraction, some producers simply prefer the natural roundness or darker flavors of warmer temperatures. The best from Gibbston Valley tends towards a more lifted and lighter palate presence with more pixelated flavors of mountain plants. For producers wanting fuller styles in single vineyard bottlings, then, such size can be grown more reliably further inland.

Alan recognizes his historical part in the pursuit of bigness. Some of his earlier wines depended on it. (It should be said they’ve also easily aged twenty years. Even still carrying the oak and stem signature they were made to celebrate, they also offer fresh acidity and supple tannin.) After forty years of vine growing and winemaking, he explains, he has gained confidence in nature and come to recognize that if we let it, it will do things for us. The fruit will get ripe and if we pick it in good condition, without much work in the cellar, it will make good wine. But on top of that confidence there has also been a change in perspective.

With a lifetime in wine, and having turned 80 last year, Alan says, he no longer feels he has anything to prove. At the same time, he recognizes it is a great privilege to make wine and share it with friends. Tasting his current wines with him it is also clear he means it. There is an easiness coupled with intelligence and relaxed sophistication to the wines that is pleasing.

We taste through several examples of his newest label, Wild Irishman. For a time he used the winery to explore regional diversity making single vineyard designate wines from sites in Bannockburn and Gibbston Valley. It’s fascinating to see the contrast in flavors between his Bannockburn wine and the Gibbston. Though they’re treated the same in the cellar, and both with a rather light touch, the Bannockburn bottling is deeper purple and rounder on the palate to the lifted, herbal blossoms and spindly tannin of the Gibbston wines. Both carry the fresh, diffused brightness of the region’s acidity.

Though he has retired now multiple times, Alan has found he simply likes making wine. After selling his part of Gibbston Valley, the winery he started in the valley of the same name, he founded and briefly led a second winery in the same valley, Mount Edward. There he intended to build a project he could manage single handedly. After several years he realized he was instead ready to step away from wine and sold. Eventually wine called him again and he founded Wild Irishman.

After exploring Bannockburn for several years he returned his focus only to Gibbston Valley. The region is, he says, his love. You can see it too in the naming of my favorite of his wines. His 2014 Macushla Pinot has little extraction but still plenty of flavor. The wine is lifted with notes of mountain thyme and tiny alpine flowers. On the palate the wine is beautifully integrated and complete, elegant with still plenty of presence. Through it all the wine is mouthwatering and savory, full of a rocky, mineral crunch with an ultra long finish. I ask him about the name, Macushla. It is gaelic, he explains, as he is Irish, and it translates as my darling, or more literally, my pulse. The name, he says, represents his life these forty years with Pinot noir.

For more on the founding history of the first vineyards in Central Otago, including those of Alan Brady in Gibbston Valley, as well as Rolfe Mills in Wanaka, and Ann Pinckney’s in Speargrass Flats: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/04/24/ann-pinckney-vine-legend-the-start-of-central-otago-wine/

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

3

Meeting Ann Pinckney, Vine Legend

In the car with Ann Pinckney and some of her pets

We’re driving up a steep and winding driveway to a plateau at the top of her property, Ann Pinckney and I, where some of her original vines – among the very first ever planted in Central Otago – from the early 1980s still grow. In the back of the car with us are three dogs clearly used to car life. They hopped in the back and got into their seats side by side without discussion as if they’ve always sat this way. When I comment to Ann about her dogs she responds that they’re usually back there with a goat she also has as a pet. Today the goat is out grazing one of the paddocks. When we get to the top of the hill and step out of the car we’re quickly surrounded by a flock of pet chickens.

Ann Pinckney was the first person to plant vitis vinifera vines commercially in Central Otago in the modern era. The very first vines in the region were actually established in the 1860s by Jean Desire Feraud, a French settler to the region, for his Monte Christo winery in Clyde, in a different valley of Central Otago than Ann’s Speargrass Flats. The region had grown significantly thanks to the gold rush and Feraud saw it as an opportunity to serve the area with quality wine. When he sold his property in the late 1880s the site included over 1200 vines, planted from cuttings he imported from Australia, as well as orchard fruits, several thousand mixed berry bushes and a half acre of strawberries. He used the fruit to make various sorts of cordials, distillates and vinegars for cooking. His original vines were propagated in multiple locations on the South island. Walking beside his original winery, unidentified, dark-berried, old vines still wrap and climb sections along the side of the stone building.

the Monte Christo Winery building, still intact in Clyde

Even with Feraud’s previous successes, at the time Ann began her work with vines in the mid-1970s, it was universally understood that Central Otago was too cold to grow grapes. Vineyards had been established further north in New Zealand and viticultural research stations were even in country but Otago’s cold semi-continental climate was viewed too extreme for vines. Asking Ann about her determination to try anyway she explains that Central Otago already had an established, albeit small, orchard industry. She was certain that if the region could ripen tree fruits it could also ripen grapes.

We walk from the car to where the trees surrounding her house open up near the edge of the hill. On the way the ground is covered in horse manure where she explains she kept her pony until recently. The plan has been to use his droppings to help enrich the health of the soils so she can begin planting again organically.

We step around the corner, just past the pony’s recent home, and there are vines so full of canopy they look like bushes. They’re surrounded by fencing to keep out Otago’s infestation of rabbits. From her original 1980s vineyards established on this plateau, Ann managed to save these few hundred vines of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, as well as one rogue Chasselas. Up here at around 1100 ft, she says, the vines have never been frosted. Even so, they have sat unwatered and uncultivated for the last several years but still produce fruit. In a desert climate with very little rain that is a testament to their hardiness, at least partially thanks to vine age. In 2016 she managed to harvest 17 kilograms of fruit and made 10 liters of wine with it as an experiment. With such little volume it was easy to forget about so the wine was left unattended. She shows it to us. The amber-gold colored wine has been oxidized. Its aromas are muted but in the mouth it so clearly tastes of the ginger and rose blossom spice of Gewurztraminer and the finish is mouthwatering. You can see from it the site could grow interesting fruit.

Ann Pinckney beside her Gewurztraminer vines

Ann’s comment about the site’s lack of frost is not insignificant. Frost proves one of the biggest challenges in Central Otago’s marginal growing climate. One of the most important factors to consider when establishing new vineyards in the region is not just soil or sun exposure but its natural frost protection. Lower elevations sites are more likely to suffer damage from cold, but higher sites can be hit just as easily if poorly situated. Most locals make the point though that no site is truly frost free. Huge weather systems occasionally blow north from Antarctica creating a genuine freeze through the region that can’t be avoided by anyone regardless of elevation.

Along with a series of personal setbacks, frost proved the demise of Ann’s previous career in viticulture. While her still existing high elevation vines have survived every frost in the region, she had expanded her vineyard plantings to include a site down below. At the end of the 1980s the region was hit by a deep freeze and the lower elevation site lost its vines. Her production was cut in half. Even so, Ann explains the set back wouldn’t have been enough to stop her work in viticulture except that in the same year her mother’s health declined. Ann chose to step out of farming and step into taking care of her mother. It was her mother’s generosity that first helped Ann begin growing vines.

Her very first vineyard was planted in a deeply cold subzone in Dalefield on her mother’s home property. Ann explains she knew it was unlikely to do very well by grapes but it was the land she had access to at the time and her thought was that if she could get vines in that area anywhere close to ripening it meant vines could ripen essentially throughout the rest of Central Otago. Her intention was to test the far outer limit for cold. The experiment worked. At the end of the 1970s she found the 250 vines she planted on her mother’s property in Dalefield could grow. So, a year later she found property in the slightly warmer area of Speargrass Flats and propagated own root vines with cuttings from the original site. As she explains, even then she knew the site wouldn’t be as warm as further inland near Bannockburn but it was where she had the chance to establish vines so she took it. She gave herself ten years to prove not only that vines could successfully grow in Central Otago but also that they could produce commercially successful wine. Then she set about traveling around the world to work in vineyards and learn more about how to grow vines in a cold climate region.

looking into uncultivated Gewurztraminer vines at Ann Pinckney’s Taramea vineyard

Ann’s determination proved pivotal for Central Otago. To gain more insight she worked and studied viticulture in Australia, France, Italy, Alsace, and Germany, eventually befriending Dr Helmut Becker, a professor of viticulture at Geisenheim University in Germany. Once she returned to her vineyards he served as a long-distance advisor to dealing with everything from frost setbacks to pruning to selecting best varieties. Her global studies helped her establish not only her own vineyards but also advise others being planted in the region.

Soon after getting started, Ann met and befriended two other viticultural pioneers of Central Otago, Alan Brady and Rolfe Mills. The three of them planted in three distinct subregions of Central Otago, each placed along the outer edges of the region – Ann first in Dalefield and then at the site where she still lives in Speargrass Flats near Queenstown, Alan in Gibbston Valley, and Rolfe on the opposite side of the region on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Through the isolation of spearheading an industry in a region otherwise unrecognized and so remote they’re shared community would keep them going in the venture. Together they would also problem solve vineyard issues.

The three growers would also make their first wines together on Ann’s Speargrass property in a several year process of trial and error. The area had never even seen fermentation tanks, a traditional wine press, or barrels and there were very little supplies available generally. Central Otago was a region essentially near the bottom of the world. It was so remote life in general, let alone winemaking, was a process of making due with what could be found. Their first fermentation vessels were food-grade safe milk tanks used in farming of the region. It turned out the acidity of the wine leached unpleasant flavors from the rubber in a way that wasn’t an issue for milk. They lost that vintage. Grapes were pressed by hand, and, at the end of the process, wines were filtered before bottling using clean women’s knickers. It would take ten years of trial and error from when Ann established vines until the first commercial bottling would be released.

In 1985, the group made the first successful wine on the property from Ann’s Gewurztraminer, as well as a Chasselas from Rolfe’s vines in Wanaka. In 1987, the winery would finally be bonded and the first official commercial wines would be made on the property – a Gewurztraminer from Ann’s vineyard bottled under her winery label Taramea, and a Pinot Noir from Alan’s label Gibbston Valley. The same year Rolfe also successfully made his first Pinot Noir under his label Rippon though it was held a bit longer before release than Alan’s wine.
The success of these first wines would finally change people’s minds on Central Otago. By 1988, the group’s wines would already be featured in an international cool climate symposium in Auckland grabbing the attention of international professionals like Jancis Robinson. Rolfe’s Chasselas bottled for his Rippon winery would be among the first wines to prove Central Otago could successfully make quality wine. By the early 1990s, wines from Central Otago were already being sold in the UK. Among the first to be recognized commercially there was a 1989 Taramea dry Gewurztraminer. A 1990 Gibbston Valley Pinot would also find its way to London where Jancis Robinson tasted it during dinner with a friend alongside a wine from Alsace and another from Burgundy. The experience increased her interest in New Zealand wine. By the early 1990s outside interest turned its attention to Central Otago and new plantings began to go into the central areas of the region in what is now known as the Cromwell Basin or Lake Dunstan subzone beginning first in Bannockburn.

Though Ann Pinckney has not made commercial wine since the mid 1990s she explains that her intention is to use cuttings from the vines still growing on site to reestablish a vineyard in the same spot she once planted on the plateau near her house in Speargrass Flats. The site down below where her vineyard suffered frost damage has since been sold for houses. With its proximity to Queenstown, it’s a part of Central Otago where residential land prices standout. For most developers the higher prices for residential land mean vineyards have not been a worthy venture. Even so, Ann explains, the value of land cannot be thought of only in relation to short term gain. For her, the upper plateau is an area worth investing in vines.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

2

Pie Club

Pie Club International first official meeting

During our travels through New Zealand in January our group of international wine professionals fell in love with New Zealand pie. We’re all about dessert pies in the United States and there are occasionally savory pies too but in New Zealand savory pies are a full blown, foundational, culturally defining matter of national identity. It’s serious.

The importance of Kiwi pie runs so deep I think New Zealanders almost take it for granted. Australians love their pie too but in New Zealand pie’s crucial. I’ve never had more fun passionately discussing the metaphysical conditions necessary to a thing than I have talking pie with a Kiwi. Every New Zealand citizen seems to have strong views of what pies are the best pies, what fillings are most essential, and how best it should be served. The fascination proves both heartfelt and charming. It led to our forming an informal international pie club.

On January 23, during dinner on the shores of Lake Wanaka, my friend David Keck instigated a conversation about the defining features of quality pie with a proper Kiwi. Two days later in North Canterbury we talked our bus driver into making a stop at his favorite pie shop in Christchurch. We dragged along our wine companions from Sweden, the UK, Australia, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Germany and around the United States and Pie Club was born – first official meeting shown above. We spent the rest of our time in country hunting out pie from coffee shops, airport bakeries, and the occasional gas station.

This last month in Central Otago, International Pie Club reconvened with admittedly far fewer members present but I take my responsibilities as one of the founding members seriously. With that in mind, here are notes from tastings throughout the best spots in Central Otago and a few further afield below. Following those there are also notes from multiple conversations throughout the month with pie loving Kiwis about the necessary and sufficient conditions for pie.

Notes from Pie Club

Arrowtown Bakery, Arrowtown
1 Buckingham St, Arrowtown

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese, Steak & Mushrooms
Served: Brown Bag, Eaten Outside
Tasting Notes:
Mince & Cheese tasted first. Preferred. Consistency and cooking of pastry really strong. Nice flavor. Long finish. Nice distribution of cheese through the filling and nice consistency of cheese, only just enough to accentuate the flavor of the mince.
Steak & Mushroom tasted second. Pastry a bit too thick on top and a bit dry. Mushrooms geographically challenged, poorly distributed. Steak a bit dry and not enough gravy. Acceptable but not exciting.

Jimmy’s Pie, Queenstown
302 Hawthorne St, Queenstown (available from multiple locations)

Pies Tasted: Mince
Served: Queenstown’s Pak & Save Cold Pie, Heated with a side of tomato sauce on a plate with fork & knife
Tasting Notes:
Solid pie. Kiwi classic. Tomato sauce appropriate though unnecessary. Good consistency and proportion of filling to pastry. Life saver but not a life changer.

The Albie Cafe, Albert Town
20 Alison Ave, Albert Town

Pies Tasted: Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme, Lamb Shank
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme eaten first. Good action. Subtle. Nice use of herbs – accent the meat without overpowering the filling. Great pastry to filling balance. Good pastry density and consistency. High quality pie.
Lamb shank tasted second. Good quality pie. An elevated pie experience without being pretentious. This is a chef that respects her pie. Greater loft and a smaller footprint for the same volume. Sprinkled with poppy seeds for pleasing nutty accent. Light tomato element gives a delicate top note to the filling. Excellent design and flourish.

Secret Local-Favorite Pie Spot, Wanaka
Address Protected by Pie Illuminati, Address available upon successful application to Pie Club

Pies Tasted: Half size Lamb Shank, Full size Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb Shank eaten first. Hearty, classic style. A working man’s pie. Ultra savory. Distinctive flavor. Hearty crust. Rustic. Satisfying. Half-size appropriate as the flavor is powerful enough as to turn a full-size into a hell of a lot of pie.
Mince pie eaten second. Shows great respect for the mince pie category. Has taken a classic and treated it seriously. Good integration of onions and a nice use of stock for flavor and moisture. Good flavor. Hearty. No one’s going to throw out that pie.

Visit to Jimmy’s Pie Headquarters, Roxburgh
143 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Not open on weekends. Still worth the pilgrimage. Jimmy’s pie purchased and enjoyed a few doors down at Teviot Tearoom.

Teviot Tearoom, Roxburgh
101 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Take Away, Cold Pie
Tasting Notes: Solid pie. Cheese adds additional subtlety and complexity to the Mince pie without being above itself or over the top. Category defining pie. Kiwi classic. Subtle use of cheese, well integrated. Totally works cold.

Welcome Swallow, Palmerston
113 Ronaldsway, Palmerston

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Unique presentation. Square shaped pie rather than round. Utterly flakey, butter crust – delicious and in good proportion to the filling though so flakey it must be eaten with care to avoid mess. Delicious, savory and serious filling though avoids being uppity. Just damn good pie. Worth the stop.

Grain & Seed Cafe, Cromwell
Old Cromwell Town Melmore Terrace

Pies Tasted: Mince with Kumera top, Chicken & Cranberry
Served on a plate with a side salad, knife and fork.
Tasting Notes:
Chicken & Cranberry tasted first. Always taste the chicken pie first as it is harder to find good chicken pie. Chicken & cranberry pie turns out to be covered in fluffed egg, not crust. Egg top not visibly obvious due to carmelization from cooking. Egg fluff top clearly not pie but quiche. Not cool.
Mince with kumera top tasted second. Good pie. Savory. Quite flavorful and satisfying mince filling. Kumera top creative variation on traditional potato top. Smart use of kumera variation as the light bit of sweetness accentuates the flavors of the mince. Good bottom crust too. Good contrast after the horror of the egg top in previous pie, which shows a fundamental defining feature of pie – must be topped with carbohydrates/starch, that is crust or a root vegetable top.

The Doughbin 24-hr Walk-up Window, Wanaka
129 Ardmore St, Wanaka

note walkup window discretely placed on the side of the building
(insider secret)

Pies Tasted: Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away at 3AM
Tasting Notes:
Well delivered middle of the night option. 24-hr walk up window stroke of genius. Wise move after drinking all the Pinot Noir. Well made pie.

Jimmy’s Pie Mobile Unit, on the move throughout Central Otago

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Cold Pie Heated in the middle of a Rugby Tournament
Tasting Notes:
Testament to the consistency of Jimmy’s Pies. Good from the grocery. Good from the mobile pie truck.

The Metaphysical Conditions of Pie

Bottom crust necessary.

Top crust must be starch based, that is, made of carbohydrates. This is generally either a flour based crust like seen on the bottom, or a potato top. Other root vegetables can be made into a variation of the potato top when treated reasonably (see Kumara top variation at the Grain & Seed mentioned above as example).

Egg fluffed top clearly is not pie but quiche. Do not try to pass off quiche as pie. You will lose friends. Not cool.

Egg cut up and served inside a two crust pie with meat still counts as pie. In such a case the egg serves as a sort of filling rather than a structural component, which is the defining difference here. Even so, this is only desirable in rare cases when the ingredients of the cupboard are dim and one is forced to make it work.

Chicken pie should be approached with caution. Chicken barely counts as meat and so should only be used in pie in rare cases (see previous case of bare cupboards and making it work). Essentially, chicken and eggs serve similar roles in pie – only when necessary. This makes sense as chicken and eggs come from the same source and so have related roles. Which came first will not be considered here. Chicken pie should always be approached with caution not entirely because of issues with the meat itself. Much like Pinot Gris, chicken can be delicious but is often mistreated by people who wish to turn it into inappropriate variants like Chicken & Cranberry, Chicken & Brie, or Chicken Curry. These people usually do not have real jobs and instead fancy themselves writers or artists.

While meat pie such as steak, mince, or lamb are most traditional regional variants are traditional to specific areas. Fish pie, for example, has a long standing history in areas near water.

Fruit does not belong in savory pie. Fruit is for fruit pie.

Vegan pie is an oxymoron. If someone asks for vegan pie they are either taking the piss or they are serious. If they are serious it is time for you to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Gluten-free pie only counts as pie if the crust was made with gluten free flour. See warnings about quiche.

Pie is an appropriate and helpful response to any of the following existential states: heartbreak, depression, hang over, rugby tournament, long hike, road trip, end of work day, after sex, before church.

If the pie available does not fulfill these conditions move along or get a sausage roll instead.

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Central Otago

Central Otago is in the midst of finishing its 2017 harvest with the last picks on Pinot Noir and Riesling coming in over the next several days. Most of the other varieties are already finished, and much of the Pinot has come in already as well. The cooler reaches of the area – vineyards at its outer edges such as Gibbston Valley and Wanaka – and higher elevations are still harvesting some vineyards.

It’s been an interesting vintage with stretches of cold weather through the growing season slowing down ripening. That’s meant that the length of time between the very first pick of the season and the very last is wider than usual as the coolest sites come in more slowly. I’ve spent the last month in the region getting to know growing conditions for the marginal climate while also researching several articles and a couple of panels I was assigned after my visit earlier this year. It’s been a really great opportunity to do a deep dive, which I love, but even so I left feeling like there is still so much more to explore. With my time there revolving around specific articles (some of which you’ll get hints of from the photos below) there were more producers I didn’t have the chance to see. I fell in love with New Zealand and hope to get back again soon not only to keep getting to know Central Otago but also to spend more time in the other growing regions of the country.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing up producer visits from the last month here. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of what I was up to through photos as shared while on the go in Instagram.

Official Tastings for the Pie Club, Central Otago chapter continue with a Kiwi classic. Jimmy’s Pies. #nzwine

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I ARRIVED WITH THE FIRST FEIJOA OF THE SEASON!!! I LOVE THIS FRUIT!!! FEIJOA==YES! #nzwine

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Taking it to the source. Jimmy’s Original Pie Shop. Roxburgh. #nzwine

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Fish and chips. Champagne. Southern Ocean. Fromm Syrah. Sunday breakfast. #nzwine @frommwinery We call this heaven.

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Though I tend to think of Malvasia (at its best) as the perfect wine to capture the fresh rising character of a late Spring morning – the crisp cool tension of late morning temperatures lifting aromatically towards the warmth of day – tasting Sand Reckoner 2014 Malvasia Bianca from the crazy high elevation desert of Southeastern Arizona with its snappy cool nights and blooming agave aromatics here in the Autumn night of Central Otago’s Lake Wanaka makes me realize it’s the perfect wine for sunset – effusive and pretty, lifting in color while simultaneously squeezing ever more towards the tightening close of night. Beautiful, reflective and somehow almost melancholic in its beauty. Delicious and nicely done. #nzwine #arizonawine @sandreckonervineyard

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Super affordable delicious – the Picnic Riesling and Pinot from Two Paddocks. #nzwine @twopaddocks @sam_neill___

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I am a fan. Prophet’s Rock 2012s Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir. #nzwine @paulpujol

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Sitting on the hill at Rippon with Mister Nick Mills. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Heading down the hill to the compost pile on Rippon with Nick Mills. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Entirely way too cool. Nick Mills heading home. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Super interesting to taste across vintage and technique with Lucie of Aurum – we did side-by-side tastings of the Aurum Estate Pinot, which is 100% destem, and the Aurum Madeline Pinot, which is 100% whole cluster, from both the 2014 and 2015 vintages. All special and delicious wines. Part of what blew my mind though was seeing that, in the end, the vintage contrast felt more apparent than the technique difference. 2014 was a dense and savory, deep toned vintage with tactile, lightly angular structure, while the 2015 was comparatively lighter, more lifted and fresh, pure fruit focused and pretty. The difference was clearly vintage expression rather than just time in bottle. Really awesome comparison. #nzwine @aurumwineslucie

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Quartz Reef 2014 No dosage sparkling kicks butt. #nzwine @quartzreefwines

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Jimmy’s Mince & Cheese Pie. Tomato Sauce. Regional Kids Rugby Tournament. Perfect Saturday. #nzwine

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Awesome look at 9 and 10 year old New Zealand Pinot both aging like champs with plenty of time left in bottle. Impressive depth and freshness in both. The Seresin 2007 Sun & Moon shows off natural concentration and energy with a savory, fresh midpalate and lots of length, all elliptical shaped through the mouth – round while focused and trim. The Rippon 2008 Tinker’s Field felt like the mix of scents given from sitting at the edge of a wild raspberry and blackberry patch – hints of earthy soil combined with just a touch of woodsy forest wafted through occasionally by a wind in the distance, dried grass accents and the pixelated, fresh lift of tiny blossoms all with a heart of mixed wild berries. Both really delicious wines showing off how the best New Zealand Pinots can age. #nzwine @seresinestate @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Bannockburn was the first subzone within the larger Cromwell Basin planted in Central Otago after the original vineyards were established essentially simultaneously in Wanaka, Speargrass Flats, Earnsclugh and Gibbston. Bannockburn has a bit more heat than the first plantings and it includes incredible soil diversity from dense white clay, to decomposed and gravel schist, windblown loess, and sand. Most interesting among these, the Bannockburn series is one of the only soil types on the planet classified as man made. (DID YOU JUST READ THAT?! MAN MADE SOIL == MIND BLOWING!!! MAN MADE! THE *SOIL* WAS MAN MADE!) The Wild West mesa-looking formations shown in these photos are actually the result of hydraulic gold mining. Massive amounts of water were washed and blasted through the mountains and terraces of the region in the search for gold deposits. The eroded rocks and soils were sluiced and anything that didn’t contain gold was chucked to the side and washed through caverns out of the way. The Wild West mesa-like formations are what remains of the original mountain and terraces. Miners were given very specific land allotments and not allowed to cut into land they didn’t own. The remaining mesa-like shapes are spots where for whatever reason prospectors just didn’t mine that allotment. Everything surrounding them was washed away in the search for gold. When you stand near these sluice spots and look into the wash-away caverns there are giant rocks everywhere piled up from being thrown away and at the bottom mounds of gravelly silt that was washed down the hill. #nzwine

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Perfect extraction. I have been primarily drinking coffee from Venus Coffee Roasters beans while here in Central Otago and it is good. Roasters in the US have gone through waves of style that remarkably parallel those of US wine – moving from over roasted styles that end up being more about burnt roaster style than origin to super high acid styles without the body to balance the coffee and show its flavor. Not many of the coffee cool kids there have found the middle road yet so I have a hard time finding coffee I enjoy. This Venus coffee is hitting that balance I dig – super fresh with some enlivening high notes for lift and interest but still bringing that just-a-bit-earthy heart of darkness with a lightly bitter finish my fisherman’s heart needs. Venus for the win! (Good name too.) #nzwine

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@kenichi_ohashi look who I found! Akihiko Yamamoto, famed wine writer of Japan, at Prophet’s Rock. #nzwine

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Driving vineyards all day with this guy. Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. #nzwine (Hi @mrbglover !!) @wineswinger

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Driving the Gibbston Valley area with Alan Brady. Unbelievably beautiful with the storm. #nzwine

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Tasting Chardonnay for Jesus! Yay! Happy Easter, Everybody!! #nzwine

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These high elevation Pinot Noir berries from clone 113 are just about ready to be picked. On such a cold vintage the high elevation sites come in quite a bit later than the lower ones as the span of harvest from first pick to last pick sites widens. The thing about checking these today though is they taste and (once plucked loose like this into individual berries) look just like what we call blueberries in Alaska from a good year. Alaskan blueberries are low bush tundra berries – a hint herbal with a burst of acid and light wash of sweetness – that come in late in the year when the weather has started to catch a slight chill to the air, much like the Autumn day today here in Central Otago. So between the feel of the weather, the mountain landscape, my spending harvest in what are essentially my old fishing clothes and then these grapes tasting of tundra berries, there is a comforting synchronicity of my life now as a wine writer and my home from Alaska. It’s a pretty good Easter. #nzwine Happy Holiday, Everybody, which ever of the several happening this weekend you may celebrate.

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“I think winemaking is a message of peace.” – Francois Millet of Chambolle Musigny. Tasting through the 2017 vintage fermentations and the 2016 elevage of the Francois Millet and Paul Pujol Cuvée Aux Antipodes collaboration Pinot Noir after having spent the morning interviewing Francois and last night tasted the 2015 bottling with them both. Our several hour conversation today moved in and out of the way in which winemaking operates as a relationship between the winemaker and the land with the winemaker acting as an interpreter whose goal always is to let the land show before the person. The winemaker is meant to “stand behind.” He or she must make decisions and importantly guides the process but the goal is to let the wine speak as an expression of the land in the mood of that vintage. Because doing so demands great humility, patience, observation and close listening it is an act and a message of peace. #nzwine @paulpujol

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Going deep on Central Otago Chardonnay. #nzwine

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Central Otago even has charming hippies. Ram Dass inspired restaurant in Queenstown. Amazing. #nzwine

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My last feijoa juice in New Zealand this time around. Boo. #nzwine

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Wellington Wine Country

Larry McKenna speaking from the edge of his Escarpment

Our tour through New Zealand wine countries finished with two days in Martinborough and its neighbor regions, all together known as Wairarapa, and now together reclassed as Wellington Wine Country. Wellington Wine Country sits about an hour and a half drive from the city itself. It’s one of the coldest growing regions in New Zealand with one of the longest growing seasons as well. As a result, it’s brilliant for producing truly cool climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with genuine concentration and density native to the fruit itself. Some of the founding prestige wineries of the country that first brought attention to the nation for producing high quality Pinot Noir originate here. The landscape through the region is incredible. At the same time, the townships hold a sort of country or frontier sort of feel that speaks to their remoteness, even if in proximity to the nation’s capitol. It’s a charming combination.

Here’s a look in photos as shared to Instagram while we traveled.

Sketching sense impressions from tasting on the trip through New Zealand to eventually do illustrations of the wines. (I don’t expect these particular ones to make sense to anyone else they are just a way to get my thinking started. When I am tasting wine I get a lot of visual and tactile experience in relation to the flavors of a wine. At times the multisensory experience of tasting makes it hard for me to use words to describe wine in a way I think others will recognize. So I started sketching the wines instead. Sketching the shapes of how a wine feels to me like shown here gives me a way to record my memory of a wine while I search for descriptors to give it later. These particular sketches are me thinking through regional characteristics rather than single wines.) #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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There it is full, the New Zealand notebook Jan/Feb 2017. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Hawke’s Bay

on the way to visit Bilancia VIneyard in Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay hosted the Classic Reds Symposium last month, as well as a day in the area’s subzones of Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, immediately following the Pinot Noir NZ event. The organization of the Classic Reds Symposium impressed me.

Producers in the region were quite willing to offer an honest presentation of their wines and discuss appropriate critique of their quality as well. Additionally, it was bold for the Symposium to immediately follow the Pinot Noir NZ event, even if that makes sense in terms of tasting order by palate weight. It’s a rather easy move, generally speaking, for a wine critic to like Pinot Noir these days – the variety’s lighter general weight and style is on trend compared to naturally fuller framed or more structured wines that so readily receive criticism these days. So, to follow an event of a popular wine type with a less celebrated weight category is a bit of a brave move. I felt the tasting of both Cabernet Sauvignon blends and Syrah wines from New Zealand, as shown at the Classic Reds Symposium, was among one of the more insightful tastings in which I’ve been able to participate. It is a rare thing to find a region so willing to be open to that level of discussion and it speaks well to their long term commitment to quality. By the end of the Symposium I felt genuinely excited for the quality of wines coming out of Hawke’s Bay and especially for where it feels the region is headed. Vineyards there have reached stable vine age and the winemakers are genuinely committed to incremental improvement. There are good wines from the region today and we are going to keep seeing better wines in the years to come as well.

The day following, where we tasted from Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, was also fascinating and well done. The regional vintners’ groups came up with truly creative ways to show us the character and growing conditions of their regions. Their techniques are shown in the following photos, as shared at the time via Instagram.

❤️#Repost @somm_arthurhon ・・・ Afternoon #selfie #winenz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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About to take off with Jen. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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One of the original 1982 Syrah vines rescued and planted own rooted by Allen Limmer here in Stonecroft Vineyard, now known as the MS clone or Mass Selection. The MS is believed to be the selection originally brought to New Zealand by James Busby, more famously known as the father of viticulture in Australia. The variety seems to have been throughout vine regions of New Zealand beginning with Busby’s arrival in the 1840s. Thanks to Prohibition it was greatly diminished and almost completely lost until in 1982 Limmer rescued the last canes of it in the country and brought it to what is now known as the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawke’s Bay. These vines as the mother block for the country. As other clones have been brought to the country vintners have experimented with the new selections but many say they return again to the MS. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Pinot Noir NZ

the curly girl and lipstick club, aka the best club

Our travels through New Zealand revolved around the Pinot Noir NZ event – a three day extravaganza focused primarily on Pinot Noir with wine professionals from 20 countries, wine lovers from all over the world, and New Zealand’s top winemakers from across the country. The event occurs every four years and while it celebrates wine it also offers truly Kiwi hospitality and talent. It honestly was the most well planned and gracefully executed wine event I have ever attended and it was not only an honor to attend but also to speak. The organizers asked if I would give the closing address looking specifically at the question of future communication while also tying together threads and themes from across the three days. Duncan Forsyth, who extended the invitation to me, asked if I would use it as an opportunity to inspire people to really dig in and commit passionately to whatever their projects – winemaking or otherwise. (If you want to see my talk you can watch it or read the transcript here. If you have any interest though you should really check out those given by others across the three days. There were incredible speakers present from across all aspects of the wine industry including internationally known celebrities. The keynotes from the first and third days are available here.) In truth though the event was utterly inspiring for me as well. The caliber of talent we were surrounded by professionally was mind blowing and best of all the entire time was full of truly good and caring people. Here’s a look at the festivities in photos as shared to Instagram at the time.

 

New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world that has established a shared healthy relationship between its First Nations Maori people and the subsequent settlers. While my Indigenous heritage serves as the foundation of who I am it is largely unseen in a US context where recognition of Native American communities is essentially non existent. To be asked then to be part of a Maori welcoming ceremony to open Pinot Noir NZ 2017 was not only a huge honor but also overwhelming. After the initial arrival and greeting portions of the ceremony I sat on stage with Dame Anne Salmond seated beside me at my left and Jancis Robinson at my right as we progressed through a series of Maori blessings and songs honoring our ancestors, our land and each other. The depth of gratitude for the experience is more than I could explain. Thank you to Pinot Noir NZ for making it possible. #nzwine #pinotnoirnz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @pinotnoirnz Thank you to @yrmom_safoodie for the photo.

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Marcel Giesen discusses how the Sta Rita Hills defines greatness through simultaneous persistence and reinventing itself. How greatness in Pinot comes from farming that respects the land, and that quality from the right site will come in time “with unwavering passion and commitment” in a relationship “between land and winegrower of humility and honesty” over time. From the choice of essentially any two Pinots in the world Marcel selected the Au Bon Climat 2005 Larmes de Grappe Pinot Noir from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard and the Domaine de la Cote 2014 Bloom’s Field describing both as exemplary cases of balance, power, finesse, purity, complexity length and authenticity. “Power isn’t size. It’s persistence. There should be sinew, movement, aliveness, energy.” #nzwine #sashimoorman @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @pinotnoirnz Excited, humbled and impressed to see one of the regions I love most – the Sta Rita Hills and Santa Barbara County – and two wines I have great admiration for showcased into such a prestigious international tasting. @rajatparr @sashimoorman @sbcwinelady

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Ken Ohishi MW from Japan shares how a Kyoto temple built in 1397, also a Unesco World Heritage site, represents a Japanese world view of balance while discussing too how understatement, purity, clarity, humility and harmony serve as the markers of greatness in Pinot Noir. He compares great Pinot Noir to the attributes of premium drinking water, not in the sense of being watery but in the sense of carrying transparency, pure clean aroma and flavor, smoothness never asserting itself too strongly instead with a sense of silence and understatement. For Ken silence is not absolute but instead closer to the experience of sitting in a quiet room with only the quiet, steady tick tock of a single clock. The simple experience of the clock helps define the time and space of the silence. The temple too gives insight into the balance of wine. The pure stillness of the pond showing an almost perfect reflection of the temple that even so is not the actual temple – the water expands what we experience and balances it without increasing the literal substance, weight or detail of the actual temple. It instead reverberates in an understated while still complex image of the original expanding our experience of the majesty of the structure. #nzwine #pinotnoirnz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @pinotnoirnz Wonderfully insightful and perspective shifting discussion.

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Terroir Translates to Tūrangawaewae at Pinot Noir NZ 2017
Elaine Chukan Brown

Maynard James Keenan speaking at Pinot Noir NZ

What do Tool front man, Maynard James Keenan, Hollywood actor of Jurassic Park fame Sam Neill, and the world’s most respected wine writer, Jancis Robinson MW, all have in common? They each offered keynote addresses to an audience of over 600 people from 20 countries at the recent three-day Pinot Noir NZ 2017 event. Wellington, at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island, played host. Considered one of the top wine events in the world, wine professionals flew in from across the planet to attend alongside devoted consumers and the best of New Zealand’s own winemakers.

Celebrated every four years, Pinot Noir NZ brings a different theme integral to quality for the variety to the fore. This year’s focus brought another dimension of discussion as it moved beyond technical questions of winemaking or chemistry to instead consider the place from which any of us gain our strength via the Māori concept, Tūrangawaewae. In brief, it means simply a place to stand, but as one of the most revered Māori terms, Tūrangawaewae refers to the place where we feel empowered – the place to which we belong, just as it belongs to us. In a wine context, Tūrangawaewae offers a new way of recognizing what it means to understand the power of a vineyard respectfully farmed and the wine it can produce for the responsive winemaker. For many of the winemakers of Pinot Noir NZ, discussion of Tūrangawaewae offered a means to translate the French notion of terroir into a New Zealand context where respect for multi-cultural life proves central.

Outside of France, terroir remains one of the most readily misunderstood and misused notions in the world of wine. Often taken in the United States to refer only to the soil itself, discussions of terroir often fail to take into account the holistic site of a vineyard that includes not only its literal earth with its particular mineral makeup and drainage, but also its slope and aspect to the sun, its dynamic microclimate, and especially too the history of its viticulture through cultivars chosen, planting styles established, and the ongoing farmers’ interactions with the vine. Terroir as a concept includes the multifaceted and dynamic interaction of the natural conditions of a vineyard with the very human choices that create the history and potential of that site. Part of the power of the word terroir in a French context comes from the comparative stability of a culture with thousands of years of viticultural history; but how do we understand our own viticultural potential in wine cultures only decades old?

To keep reading this article, click through to the free-for-all NZ Dirt email. The rest of the article explores how the Maori concept of Tūrangawaewae offers a way to bring notions of terroir into a new world context and how New Zealand in particular has advanced these ideas through their intensive sustainability efforts. 

Here’s the link: http://www.nzwine.com/assets/Terroir%20Translates%20to%20Turangawaewae%20at%20Pinot%20Noir%20NZ%202017%20(Elaine%20Chukan%20Brown).pdf

The rest of the NZ Dirt newsletter is worth a look as well. Check it out (free-for-all) here: http://pro.sumo.co.nz/t/ViewEmail/r/09EC442CB0E32AE42540EF23F30FEDED/8B1A56CC56573E889E794568BD214575

 

Pinot Noir NZ 2017

Every four years winemakers from across New Zealand put together a three day event celebrating Pinot Noir. This year, Pinot Noir NZ 2017 took place in its host city of Wellington bringing together around 1000 guests total from 20 countries, including top wine professionals from each of those 20 countries, the best winemakers from around New Zealand and eager wine lovers from all over the world as well. Morning sessions focused on a series of talks and seminars, and after lunch (each designed by one of the top chefs of New Zealand or Australia), afternoons brought well-focused regional walk around tastings. By the end of the three days we’d heard from speakers that included some of the brightest in the New Zealand wine industry and a number of the world’s top wine professionals as well. In the evenings top chefs from New Zealand and Australia would serve dinner.

Pinot Noir NZ was truly one of the best wine events I have ever attended. It was impressively designed around a central theme that allowed for both focused and dynamic discussion considering the value of wine from multiple angles. There were technical seminars as well as more philosophical ones; tasting panels meant to make us reconsider how we experience wine and others that asked us to explore our own views of wine quality. The three days were designed around the Maori notion of Tūrangawaewae, a concept that captures the importance of place in how we gain, recognize, and gather our strength. Each of the three days then took a different theme for better understanding the value of Tūrangawaewae. I’ll be writing more about Tūrangawaewae later this week.

Day 1 revolved around the theme of Explore and opened with a Maori welcoming ceremony. International speakers for Pinot Noir NZ were asked to be part of the group being received by the local Maori tribes, and so to also participate in the ceremony on stage with the Maori elders and other tribes people. I was a speaker in this year’s Pinot Noir NZ, and so was asked to be part of the opening ceremony, to be a delegate received and greeted by the local Maori. It was an overwhelming and special experience. It was hard to believe the honor, that I was being asked to be part of such a sacred ceremony. The rest of the first day focused on speeches about the meaning, import and relevance to our thinking of wine in Tūrangawaewae, and then turned to understanding the value of each of the country’s growing regions before we then went to the regional tastings.

Day 2 considered the notion of Embrace and focused on tasting panels that gave us the chance to continue the conversation with wines there to help deepen the conversation. An international panel of wine experts selected wines and shared their views of greatness. The diversity of perspectives thanks to the international nature of the panel was inspiring. We were then put to a sound tasting by Jo Burzynska where Pinot noir was matched to different types of music as we explored how the varying sound types had very real impact on our tasting ability.

On Day 3 the focus was on how to Evolve and included a series of talks that asked where we are headed as not only as members of the wine community but also more broadly (wine lovers are always also part of the world at large after all), and so with that in mind, how to move forward. I was asked to give the closing speech for day 3 speaking to the question of future communication while also tying together threads from across the three days.

A number of people asked that once it was available I share my speech and its transcript here. So, now that I have both I am posting them as requested. Thank you to all of you that asked for this. I very much appreciate it.

As I mentioned, my speech refers to the conversations from across all three days of the event. Much of what is referenced will make sense in context. But to clarify a few things – the speech names a number of speakers from earlier in day 3 and references points they raised – Maynard James Keenan, Sam Neill, and Jancis Robinson are all mentioned. A few of them had also been joking about the relevance of their astrological signs, which is why I begin with explaining mine. I also mention Marcel Giesen, who spoke as part of the panel on greatness on day 2, and Nick Mills who spoke as part of the opening consideration of Tūrangawaewae on day 1. Also, on day 1, Rachel Tualelei, Ropata Taylor, and Dame Anne Salmond spoke on the history of the Maori, which is referenced near the beginning of my speech without naming them. In the beginning I refer to First Nations peoples. I am using that phrase to address the idea of first people to any particular region more generally. Such people are often referred to as indigenous (which I do also say here) but in some cases, such as the Maori of New Zealand, the people are not indigenous to that land but nevertheless were the first people of that land. I am using the phrase in that sense. In Canada, for example, the term First Nations has a more specific reference to a particular group there in Canada so I mention that here to clarify I am using the phrase more broadly. It is apparent in the context of the speech.

The other speeches shared online are also worth watching. The people named above whose speeches are available online I have linked to  – click on their name and it will take you to the video of their talk. The link to all available speeches (including regional overview videos from the event) are available here: https://vimeo.com/pinotnoirnz 

Thank you most especially to the board of Pinot Noir NZ for inviting me to speak, and to Rachael Fletcher for so seamlessly guiding everything, to Mike Bennie for suggesting me, and to David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. Thank you to James Tidwell and David Keck for so patiently letting me talk through aspects of my talk before hand. Your friendship makes all the difference.

Here is the video of the speech. It’s transcript immediately follows it.

Day 3 Elaine Chukan Brown from Pinot Noir NZ on Vimeo.

Future Communication: Pinot Noir NZ
Elaine Chukan Brown

So I want to get out of the way right away that I am a Tiger in the Chinese zodiac. That’s the terrestrial parallel to Maynard’s Dragon – totally tenacious, claws the shit out of everything to get where it’s going, full commitment, looks good in stripes. Right?

I’m also a double Virgo. Virgos are known for devotion. They’re defined by love, and most especially service. So, whatever they do, they do out of love, and total commitment to excellence. But then I have a Sagittarius moon, which means that whatever I do, I do with my hair on my fire, and I thank my daughter for making sure that it looks like it is.

It is an incredible honor to be part of an event that so completely honors and speaks from the position of the First Nations people of the country that’s hosting it. As some of you know, I am Inuit from Alaska, and the terrible truth is that First Nations in the United States are barely even recognized for still existing. And so I live my daily life interacting with people unable to see who I am. And so to be here, and to have been asked to be part of the opening ceremony, finding connection, communion, companionship between the First Nations people of New Zealand and all of us that are here to speak about Pinot noir, and all of the other wonderful things we’ve been speaking about, was completely overwhelming.

But in acknowledgement of that, I wish to introduce myself to you as I would if I was speaking with my Native community in Alaska. I actually called my mother yesterday to ask for permission to speak today, and for permission to say my Native name, which in Alaskan communities is private, as a way of sort of preserving what’s most valued for us. Obviously, I’m not going to worry about it if I’m crying, so you’ll just all have to deal with it.

My maternal great-grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordon and Anisha McCormick. My paternal great-grandparents are Stephen and Amelia Ivanoff, of Norton Sound, Alaska. My grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown. My parents are Mel and Katherine Brown. I am Unangan and Iñupiaq. That is Aleut and Inuit from Alaska. My name is Elaine Chukan Arnaqiaq Brown. My daughter is Rachel Marie Williams.

For indigenous peoples across the planet, our ancestors, our people, define who we are. I am my ancestors. But also for indigenous peoples across the planet, what are ancestors are is our land, the place from which we come. So to speak with you today is overwhelming because I bring them with me.

My great-grandfather, I was lucky enough to know growing up, and he was born at a time, in a place so remote, that he saw the first waves of outside people enter his region. And he would tell me stories about the first time he saw someone from China, the first time he saw a black person, the first time he heard a radio, the first time electricity appeared in the region. When the wars came. His region was part of the front lines of World War II, which of course brought more outsiders.

As an indigenous person in Alaska, he was denied the rights of citizenship until the second half of the last century, when Alaska finally became a state. And especially in light of Jancis’s insight about recent global politics, what I would like to offer – I hadn’t expected to – but what I would like to offer is the recognition of the strength, the resilience, and the incredible transforming power that he took to every aspect of his life. And if you could imagine a life lived, to survive such radical transformation as I just mentioned …

As a quick side note, to get across how bad-ass this man I grew up with was – he actually killed a bear with a spruce tree that he cut down, cut the bows off, and made a sharp tip on because he lived in Alaska at a time before guns. Totally hardcore.

But anyway, my point being – imagine a person that could remain utterly true to himself, utterly clear in his values, utterly persistent and determined that in all of that change of which he had no control of, he would be the best version of himself, and he would do it for the sake of his people and his family, and generations of people he would never meet.

I want to speak briefly about a kind of indigenous ethics that’s implied in what I’m saying, because I think it really ties in to a lot of the values that have been expressed here: notions of sustainability; the wonderful talk we heard here on the first day from Nick at Rippon and that experience of trying to honor the land and instill value across generations. For indigenous peoples, for myself being here today, my most central project, regardless of anything else I am doing, my most central project is to act in a way that loves people I will never meet so that I may honor those that made my life possible.

Some of you have heard this in terms of thinking in seven generations. We thank seven generations back whose lives brought us here, by acting for the sake of seven generations forward, many of whom we’ll never know.

When I asked my mom permission to speak with you today, she emphasized the point that she can’t help but think of my great-grandfather, who raised her, and that there’s a sense in which I’ve brought him here – a man who grew up so differently than everyone here. He’s come to New Zealand now. And speaking to Sam’s point about the unlikely, how incredibly unlikely is it for all of you to have to listen to an Inuit woman from Alaska talk about her great-grandfather in the middle of a Pinot noir conference.

But the unlikelihood runs far deeper than that. It’s unlikely that he even lived long enough to make my life possible. We heard on the first day about the struggles of the Maori people. It’s a struggle that is utterly consistent with indigenous peoples all over the planet. And the idea that any First Nations are still alive and vibrantly breathing and clearly present here with all of you is a miracle. And so for me, in thinking how do I love my future descendants and honor those who came before me, that’s what I carry in everything I do. It is a miracle that I am here, and it is no thanks to me that that is true, and it is little thanks to me that anything I have done might have significance. It is totally, absolutely, because of the miracle of people that worked so hard to be resilient.

And what I want to offer is that this is a gift that any of us can have. I am profoundly aware of it because of my particular heritage and background and the way that I was raised, but part of what we’ve been talking about and part of what this whole program has so intensely tried to instill in each of us is that we have to fucking care about what we do, right? And what’s to come. And again, it’s because of caring for people that we will never meet. And the way that we can do that is to seek in every single step excellence in what we do.

Just like Marcel said yesterday, “Quality comes slowly over time, a step at a time.” And this morning we heard – I can’t remember now who said it – but the idea that perfection is a lot of little steps done well. That’s what I’m speaking to. We all have that opportunity.

In terms of how that shows up, I want to speak briefly – some of you heard yesterday, I apologize, but I am a recovering philosopher, and again, like alcoholism you deal with it every day. So, I wanted to use that as a background that I have to just very briefly speak about the idea of expertise because part of the struggle, I think, we face now in a world that is so full of uncertainty is this grief for the loss of the expert. Any of us in this room, because we’re of drinking age, were born into a time where the expert guided how the world moved, and decisions were made very much in a top-down model. People devoted themselves to intricate, thorough-going study, and that information would trickle out to the rest of us. So it was very much a top-down, triangular model.

And what’s happened now is the proliferation of information, thanks to the Internet and Jancis is largely to blame for us wine-lovers, right, through so many brilliant reference books. With that proliferation of information, that triangle has flattened and spread. And we’ve created a kind of horizontaling of information sharing. And, with that, it becomes very difficult to see where the expert remains.

This will tie back to the bear hunting and things like that, by the way, just so you know …

So in this grief of loss of the expert, it’s unclear what the expert’s role is anymore. And so briefly, I just wanted to ask – what is an expert? Clearly the accessed information, even the creation of information as we study the world and learn more about it is paramount there. But with this proliferation of information, there’s a way in which that’s kind of the part we’ve lost. Everyone has access to a database, so a lot of the questions you hear about the loss of the expert come back to, “Well why do I need that person? I can look it up on Google.”

But what remains is an intimacy with the information, an understanding – how do I interpret this? How do I recognize what’s valuable? How do I know it’s pertinent to now, to what I need to know now? And so that sense of intimacy we still desperately need from experts; we see all sorts of political bad decisions happening and it’s because people don’t know how to interpret properly the kind of information that they are being inundated with. We still need that kind of help. But part of what goes along with this – the way people become experts that are relevant is that we trust them. They’re reliable. We believe them. What they say makes sense. We feel a connection.

Now studies of Millennial consumer groups done recently have shown interesting buying patterns. And I’m actually not interested in talking about Millennials, except that I think because of when they were born, they come onto the scene as this shift from triangle to horizontal is happening. And so they’re, in a way, the purest expression of the impact of that change in information society.

So what we’ve seen studying Millennials’ consumer habits and interests is that advertising has almost no effect. Millennial populations, again, in these surveys, have said only one percent of the respondents actually make a purchase based on advertising that they see, whether it’s on television, or in print, or online. Instead, what they’re doing is turning to companions, to actual people around. And they’re doing this very much online, through various online sources – blogs, and various types of social media.

But when you dig deeper into this, and this links back to the other points I’ve been making – when you dig deeper into this, what you find is that what they’re searching for is intimacy and connection. And it is that that makes people respond. And it is from that that leads to people changing their minds, finding what they care about, learning to recognize who they are, and making purchases as well.

This obviously is relevant to a lot of the people in the room who are vintners, and are interested in figuring out how the heck to get people to buy a bottle of their wine. Well, it’s not advertising, which respondents said feels as if they’re being sold something. It’s too pat. It’s too formulaic. And it feels like being tricked or manipulated. And so instead what they’re responding to is someone they feel a connection to, that they can trust and believe, and think, “Oh, I recognize something of myself in them; if they like it, I must too.”

And so what’s happened is that we’ve come into a very peculiar time, where our own individual particularity, our very specific commitments, the exact thing we care about, and the ways that we express those things, are the most relevant in terms of how we recognize who we want to believe, what we want to buy, how we want to communicate.

Duncan actually asked me to speak on future communication. There is no one in this room that knows what this means, and so I worked through it in this way: what I want to suggest is that the future of communication starts in what I’m describing. We desperately still need people to risk the life of the expert; to commit so thoroughly to what they do that their life and its legacy, as Maynard referenced, reverberates beyond them to people they will never meet. Some currently alive now, and others that simply come down the road, generations away. We desperately need that.

But what I’m suggesting is that we all have the opportunity to do that now. Everyone in this room can choose that life. Nick is so fortunate, as he expressed on Tuesday, to have been born into a circumstance like his at Rippon, and he’s doing an incredible job at honoring that, and carrying that forward. And that is fantastic to see. But very many of us don’t have that situation, right. So what do we do? How do we translate that model into something we can claim?

And what I’m saying is that if we recognize that we’re all looking, now, in the midst of this chaotic world, with this mass proliferation of information that we all struggle to interpret, we recognize that we’re looking for communication, connection, and intimacy. And we seek to act in excellence, to cultivate that in very small ways, in every little moment that we do – and share that openly. We can’t expect that benefits of the old top-down model anymore; reverence doesn’t come in the way it used to, for those of us who give ourselves to lifelong projects. Many people get attention very quickly, right? But connection and intimacy is greater than that. And the satisfaction instead comes from knowing that in committing to that excellence and acting from service, our effect can reverberate out in ways we cannot even predict.

With that in mind, I really want to thank David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. It’s been a remarkable trip. I know Mike Bennie was kind enough to kind of pester Duncan and Ben about me, and I really appreciate that, too. But most of all, I thank Duncan and Ben for inviting me to speak today.

You have allowed me to bring my family here, and to make real something that my great-grandfather was open enough to know not in any specific way could happen, but that if he did well by his family, by his people, and in every act he took, that those that came after him could surpass anything he imagined, and arrive eventually, on a country he barely knew was real.

What I’m describing might seem a little alien, perhaps. But I just want to ask each of us to consider very simple questions, and to ask them of ourselves again and again and again, and even sometimes every step: what do you want to love? How can you be of service today? How will you exemplify excellence in any small thing you do?

Thank you.

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