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IPNC Central Otago Pinot Noir Seminar

At the recent International Pinot Noir Celebration I led an afternoon University of Pinot seminar on Central Otago Pinot Noir. Winemakers Lucie Lawrence of Aurum Wines, Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward, and Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock were also present. Each presented one of their own wines and helped me present four other wines from the region as well. We decided to present six wines that offered investigative pairs into the history, soils and elevation, vintage variation, and stylistic range of the region. As the region is still quite young the seminar was meant to offer an exploration of Pinot from the area, rather than a definitive, conclusive view.

These six wines from Wild Irishman, Rippon, Aurum, Quartz Reef, Mount Edward, and Prophet’s Rock were from five vintages – 2010 to 2014. After designing the seminar in this way, we then added an additional wine from Doctor’s Flat in order to bring greater depth to the investigation of elevation.

The first two wines from the Wild Irishman and Rippon opened the conversation offering touchstones to the origins of Pinot Noir in Central Otago (To read more on this early history of Central Otago: Ann Pinckney, Alan Brady, Rippon.) as well as a look at two of the cooler sub-zones of the region.

Two wines from the 2012 vintage – Aurum and Quartz Reef – allowed us to consider sub-regional diversity and vintage as the two wines have similar levels of whole cluster, are grown at essentially similar elevations, and yet quite different soil types from two different sub-zones. Aurum and Mount Edward served as another pair – the two wines are from very close proximity but quite different vintages as well as differing fermentation choices.

Quartz Reef and Prophet’s Rock became another pair. They are from quite close proximity but very different elevations, which also means differing soil conditions. Finally, Prophet’s Rock and Doctor’s Flat are from differing sub-zones but both from higher elevation sites.

Following are notes on the wines, their vintages, and the stylistic choices of their winemakers.

The line up … @ipnc_pinot

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The 2014 vintage was a relatively even growing season – a bit on the cooler side without being cold. The moderate and steady temperatures are reflected generally in the wines, offering tannin structure in good balance to the flavor presence, while also showing less abundant tannin than the previous vintage. 2014 Pinots from Central Otago are generally good wines without quite as much structure to age as the 2013 and 2015 vintages.

Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago 13.5%

Owner-winemaker Alan Brady makes his Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir from what seems to be the highest elevation vineyard in Central Otago, and is certainly the highest elevation site in the Gibbston area. While he also does a Three Colleens cuvee from the same vineyard, the Macushla he holds longer in barrel allowing 16 months of aging before bottling. The result is finer, more resolved tannin well integrated with the flavor and body of the wine. Gibbston Valley as a growing sub-zone is among the coolest portions of Central Otago with harvest times significantly later than the more central areas of Lowburn, Pisa, Bannockburn, or Bendigo. The cooler, higher elevation temperatures of this site showcase one of the hallmarks of Gibbston’s flavor profile – alpine herbs with aromatics and flavors that come with very fine leaves that still somehow carry concentration with subtlety. The Macushla Pinot is entirely de-stemmed.

Tasting: The 2014 Macushla shows the lightness and lift of Gibbston Valley with the understanding to avoid over extraction in a region and vintage that could otherwise lead to rough tannin and an imbalanced wine. Notes of dried herbs and dried roses with a savory persistence set alongside dark purple fruits on the midpalate and light hints of cedar. Nice structural focus on supple tannin washed through with glittering acidity set in good balance to the fruit. Persistent mineral line of palate stimulating sapidity through a long finish. Mouthwatering, fresh, flavorful and light footed. There is a nice sense of depth and energy with insight at the heart of this wine. It carries a purity that shows the confidence of a winemaker in his site – no need to over extract or obscure the fruit the site gives you when you trust the vines. A pleasure to taste. Only two barrels produced.

In general, the 2013 vintage in Central Otago brings ample tannin for aging, while also creating wines that need decanting. From the best producers that extra step reveals a wealth of subtlety. Spring conditions created a challenging start to the year but temperatures became more even later in the growing season, and most especially in the weeks leading to harvest. Avoiding extreme temperatures, the vintage shows wines with good flavor and structure both in good balance.

Rippon “Rippon” Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago 13%

The Mills family regard their Rippon bottling of Pinot Noir as the voice of the farm. Treated as a self-contained and self-sustaining farm, they view Rippon as the equivalent of a lieu diet with the winery, Rippon, being named after the Rippon lieu dit, rather than the other way around. That is, this particular bottling should be understood as an expression of the Rippon farm made by the Rippon winery, thus the double inclusion of the name Rippon on the label. Winemaker Nick Mills includes whole cluster in the fermentation only from vines he feels are adapted well enough to the site to express what he calls the noble phenolics of the place. The older vines that are well adjusted to the place’s unique growing conditions, he feels include distinctive, expressive, and pleasing phenolic matter that benefits rather than obscures the final wine. In order to determine which vines would count as ready in this way he relies on tasting both seed and stems. When there is a positive physical response to chewing this portion of the vine material it is included in the fermentation. When there is instead an experience of astringency or bitterness, the stems are disregarded. The Rippon Rippon Pinot Noir tends to be around 30% stem inclusion, and includes wine from all portions of the Rippon vineyards including both the original vine sites beside Lake Wanaka as well as some of the younger vines from the upper blocks of the property. The Wanaka area is one of the coldest sub-zones of Central Otago and Rippon has proven to be one of the few successful growing area within it as its vineyards are moderated by the neighboring lake helping it to avoid the most extreme frosts (though the site does not escape frost). It also never reaches extreme heat.

Tasting: Hints of cocoa and cedar on the nose are followed by chewy but firm tannin on the palate though these broaden and open with air. 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. Through the finish firm, dark resinous notes appear from use of stem – these also recede and further integrate with air and are not unpleasant even when more apparent. There is a pleasing depth and natural concentration here coupled with a fresh, purity of energy that feels distinctive of site. With air, chalky tannin marries to that fresh, high tone acidity of the region for a long finish. This wine is quite young and would do well with decanting before serving, and some time in cellar.

Warm (not at all hot) temperatures opened the 2012 vintage and carried the remainder of the season. While much of the rest of New Zealand had a genuinely challenging year, Central Otago’s continental location protected it. The warm and even growing conditions created wines with succulent flavor and often more supple, silky tannin. It is generally a seductive vintage offering elegant Pinot Noir that also retains the structural integrity for plenty of depth and age-ability.

Aurum Mathilde Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago 13%

The Aurum estate grows along the shores of Lake Dunstan in the Lowburn-Pisa intersection. Sitting directly beside the lake, Aurum hosts moderate temperatures with the lake helping to keep it from suffering from either too much heat or severe cold. Growing from wind blown loess soils of decomposed schist common to the lower elevation sites of the region, Aurum Pinots tend to have the finer, textured tannin and pleasantly bright red flavors common to sandy and loess soils. Aurum winemaker Lucie Lawrence likes to focus on exploring texture as a way to bring complexity to her wines whether that be in Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. In Pinot Noir she makes three cuvees from the family-owned vineyard. The estate Pinot is entirely destemmed and meant to offer a pure expression of site. She also makes a 100% whole cluster fermentation Pinot, the Madeline, which is both delicious and instructive to drink. As the wine is made full whole cluster, while at the same time with minimal handling, the tannin of the wine is ample while also succulent and perfumed. The wine needs time in bottle and air upon opening and is well worth it. The Mathilde is made as what Lawrence describes as a more sophisticated, grown-up expression of the estate, focusing on particular clones from the site as well as about 25% whole cluster inclusion.

Tasting: Very lightly minty, lightly cedar, rose and red fruit aromatics lift from the glass and carry into the palate where subtle accents of dark chocolate mint and a lightly resinous accent also appear. Perfumed throughout, the palate is mouthwatering and lengthy with supple tannin that turns pleasantly dry through the ultra long finish. Flavor fills the mouth while remaining elegant and restrained, carried on a lifted and energetic palate. The structure and overall presentation are at the same time textural and spindly, characteristic of its site and lighter, windblown soils. The wine opens significantly with air and should be decanted to fully enjoy. It is also especially lovely alongside food.

Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago 14%

Quartz Reef was the first to develop vineyard land in the Bendigo growing area of Central Otago. Owner-winemaker Rudi Bauer recognized the growing potential of the sub-region and worked with the owner of the Bendigo sheep station to establish the necessary infrastructure for vineyards to enter the area. He was the first to plant there, and selected a moderately sloped site with rolling flats below to plant and farm biodynamically. The Pinot from the site is also used to make some of the best sparkling wine of the country with the vintage sparkling being a particular stand out. Bauer should be properly regarded as one of the fore fathers of the region – not a total pioneer in the sense of being the first to grow and make wine but nevertheless one of the first truly professional winemakers, and by now also one of the, if not the, longest standing professional winemaker in the region. His work helped elevate the quality of winemaking in the area while also helping to grow the overall wine culture. Bauer’s focus on camaraderie, information sharing, and global perspective are definitive of Central Otago’s wine community.

Tasting: Light cedar notes open the aromatics but disappear moving into the palate where red fruit flavors of candied cherries, pomegranate and candied rose petal come to the fore. There is a profound mineral line here that is both savory and glittering carrying the wine along with its bright while diffuse, high tone acidity through an ultra long finish. This wine carries the generous flavor and succulence of the vintage while showing a pleasing combination of lifted frame and depth. I especially like the distinctive presence of the rocky, silica charge of the sub-zone. Pleasing depth of spice characteristic of the subregion and accents of light tar that are a pleasure here. Hints of chocolate mint appear on the finish. Impressive structure well balanced to the fruit that entirely avoids being overbearing and shows the winemakers understanding of his site. This wine will age forever.

The 2011 vintage was more varied than those that followed it. Beginning rather warm, vine growth took a jump start in the spring pointing to what seemed like it would be a swift and early season. Within a month, however, conditions changed leading to cold temperatures and ample wind. Growth slowed bringing potential harvest back to a more standard timeframe. As harvest approach, the final weeks regained enough warmth to ripen the fruit. Wines from the region tend to be rather varied in 2011. Warmer sub-zones tended to do best from the 2011 harvest as they were able to harness plenty of temperature for flavor development and structural balance while also capturing the freshness and focus of the cool stretch.

Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago 13.5%

Mount Edward farms several sites in differing sub-zones of Central Otago. The Morrison vineyard grows from the flats near the shores of Lake Dunstan, reaching up a slopeside overlooking the region. As a result there is ample diversity to the site. Sitting in the Lowburn-Pisa intersection, the Morrison Vineyard hosts warmer temperatures for the region (relatively speaking – that is in no way to call this site overly warm or anything even remotely resembling hot temperatures) while remaining moderate. To put that another way, it is more moderate and even than the Gibbston Valley or Wanaka areas, while not quite as warm as Bannockburn. Winemaker Duncan Forsythe likes to make single vineyard cuvees from his various sites in years that warrant it, while blending across sites for his main estate cuvee. He also experiments with varying degrees of whole cluster inclusion depending on vintage.

Tasting: Aromatics of dark chocolate mint and wet herbs carry into the palate alongside dark fruits accented by sweet, late summer blossoms and a finish of wet tobacco. Lots of palate presence here housed in savory, chewy tannin washed through with acidity. A touch of heat peppers the finish but the wine stays juicy all the way through to close. There are ample while supple tannins here well-balanced by acidity that carries into a long finish. This Morrison Vineyard shows off the advantages of a warmer site (relatively speaking – this is still a very cool climate after all) in a cold vintage bringing depth of flavor and plenty of acidity while still avoiding green notes or the problems of under-ripeness. The whole cluster here avoids any sort of aggressive tannin while at the same time creating a wine of amplitude. Be sure to serve at cellar temperature.

Relatively even temperatures and weather conditions throughout the 2010 vintage also hosted just a touch more, still even, warmth in the later portions of the growing season. Wines tend to bring a combination of flavor, flesh, and structure with plenty of subtlety and depth from the best producers.

Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago 13.9%

Growing on one of the highest glacial terraces in Central Otago, Prophet’s Rock benefits from the unique soil structure resulting from the older soils of these upper terraces. Sitting at around 1250 ft elevation, schist top soil turns to light clay – formed from the fine particles of eroded schist simply due to soil age – with layers of chalk. In effect, both soil drainage and pH are unique for the site and the tannin profile and mouthfeel prove unique for the resulting wines as well. Sitting on a moderately steep slope, the vineyard tends to avoid the worst of the region’s potential frost, though due to its higher elevation it can still be harvested quite late in cooler vintages. Winemaker Paul Pujol has experimented with stem inclusion from this site but feels the vineyard’s wines ultimately are best revealed without it. He has also done a lot to reduce extraction as much as possible keeping the cap wet through fermentation while only doing one punch down through the entire length of fermentation and no pump overs.

Tasting: A pleasing balance of pure red fruits and flowers carrying depth of spice and a mineral-earthy accent carried by chalky tannin washed with acidity. Shows the amplitude and breadth of its vintage as well as the pure, bright while diffuse, high tone acidity of Central Otago. Deftly puts its broader structure alongside balancing fruit and a persistent mineral component that carries through the long finish. This wine needs to be decanted upon opening as there is a wealth of subtlety and evolution in the glass that reveals itself with air. A healthy respect for both site and vintage shows here. Most of all this wine is about subtlety – there is a lovely purity, clarity, and intelligence to this wine that is well wed to its deliciousness.

Bonus Wine

After having designed the seminar around the previous six wines we decided to add one additional wine, the Doctor’s Flat Pinot Noir, as it brings an additional layer of insight to the exploration by giving another high elevation reference to the tasting. The above information on the 2014 vintage is of course also relevant to this particular Doctor’s Flat wine.

Doctor’s Flat Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago 13.5%

Doctor’s Flat stands on the top terrace of the Bannockburn area of Central Otago. It’s a unique site as it sits more exposed to wind and its cooling effect than much of the rest of the subregion where the most famous vineyards are more protected in the curve of hillsides that hug around a bay of Lake Dunstan. Sitting a little over 900 ft in elevation, the site grows not on the oldest glacial terrace of the region, but on one of the older ones. The schist parent material, then, is more decomposed to include more available mineral nutrients in the subsoils with some light clay occurring from the fine decomposed particles as well as small amounts of chalk. The combination of cooler temperatures with wind exposure and decomposed soils tend to lead to smaller yields with red fruit notes from this site, as well as chalky tannin. Owner-winemaker Steve Davies likes to play with some stem inclusion, though he has been exploring how much since his first vintage. Today he tends to hover around 30% stem inclusion.

Tasting: With 30% whole bunch underlying this wine hints of stem inclusion in the form of minty-cedar notes lift from the nose and also hover in the center of the palate. Tasting the wine multiple times over half a year it is also clear that the stems are continuing to integrate. Currently they bring a fresh top note to the nose, while at the same time carrying a kind of secondary mid-note – think of it as the sort of two tone experience enjoyed from just roasted green hatch chiles. The chiles first reveal that wispy green breath-of-fresh air lift that fills the nose and are quickly followed by almost-caramelized dark tones from the roasting that fill the aromatics at a lower register. The same carries into the mouth where fresh red fruits burst across the palate, carried by pleasantly chalky tannin, a mix of savory cocoa and Mexican spices, and a long mouthwatering finish.

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

Winemakers Use Pied de Cuve Instead of Sulfur
An Alternative Method to Stabilizing Central Coast Whole Cluster Pinor Noir
Elaine Chukan Brown

TOGETHER RAJAT PARR AND Sashi Moorman are the winemakers behind Domaine de la Cote and Sandhi in the Sta Rita Hills and Evening Land in the Willamette Valley. Domaine de la Cote and Evening Land are made from estate vineyards, while Sandhi sources fruit from heritage sites in Santa Barbara County. Their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which undergo a rather less-frequented fermentation method: all three wineries forego the use of sulfur until bottling and allow fermentation to start with ambient, rather than inoculated, yeast.

To help counteract some of the microbial issues that can result from withholding the use of sulfur, the winemakers have begun to rely on a pied de cuve method to help start fermentation. The method has been particularly helpful in whole-cluster fermentation for Pinot Noir. While the volatile acidity (VA) levels have been reasonably low for all of their wines, Parr and Moorman were interested in ensuring that they would remain low. The pied de cuve has helped lower those levels even further. Moorman shared their approach to the pied de cuve.

No Sulfur Until Bottling

Since the advent of the Sandhi program in 2010, the winemaking has included no sulfur until bottling, as well as fermentation via ambient yeast. When Parr and Moorman started Domaine de la Cote and Evening Land, they continued the practice for those wines as well. The decision to avoid sulfur until after fermentation was made to allow greater complexity in the resulting wine by fostering …

To keep reading head on over to Wine Business Monthly where their August edition is now available free-for-all online. You can either down the full PDF of the magazine or peruse it online. You will have to sign in but there is no cost to read once you’ve done that. The rest of the article on Parr and Moorman’s pied de cuve approach begins on page 66 of the August 2017 edition.

Here’s the link: 

https://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=9428

3

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.

 

4

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.

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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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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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Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Redwoods & Isolated Ridges
Elaine Chukan Brown

that’s me in cartoon thanks to Wine & Spirits Magazine

A few years ago, a 2007 Anthill Farms pinot noir from Peters Vineyard in western Sonoma shocked me with its energetic combination of earthy depth and high-toned aromas. That, I think, is when I really caught the Sonoma Coast bug. Since then, I’ve visited Sonoma’s coastal vineyards again and again, hoping to better understand the intricacies of these mountains.

The west Sonoma coast fascinates me partially because of the unique growing conditions of every site. From the steep, redwood-dense slopes of the north, mere meters away from the Mendocino border, to the exposed high-elevation peaks of Fort Ross–Seaview, all the way south to the fog-dripped slopes near Freestone and Occidental, each vineyard feels like its own isolated sovereignty. Thanks to the ruggedness of the region, many vineyards grow in remote reaches of the mountains out of sight of any other. Most of all, my fascination stems from the way this region’s pinot noirs express that diversity.

Sonoma’s coastal range draws a line between the warmer inland temperatures of the county on one side and the cold Pacific air mass on the other. Canyons and low points in between allow fog and cool air to sneak into the inland side of the county. Those two forces—the warmth of the continent and the chill of the ocean—interact to create unique microclimates tucked into the folds of the mountains.

The San Andreas Fault also contributes to the region’s viticultural diversity. The mountains here formed over millennia as the Pacific and continental plates crashed against each other, creating a complicated mineral quilt: shale and sandstone sometimes reduced to a powdery topsoil, volcanic rocks, and incursions of serpentine, quartz, greenstone and chert.

It’s a complex region. The six wines below only begin to scratch the surface, but they’ve become some of my most reliable signposts.

The Cool Southlands

The Freestone Valley—a particularly cool spot in the coast range—sits just north of the low valley of the Petaluma Gap. Here, vineyards are often inundated with dense fog and cold temperatures even in…

To continue reading, head on over to Wine & Spirits Magazine’s website where the article is available to read for free. As it continues it gives an overview on the unique growing conditions of Sonoma’s coastal mountains and also describes six wines that help understand the region. 

Here’s the link to the article: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/sonoma-coast-pinot-noir-redwoods-isolated-ridges

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Central Otago and Waitaki Pinot 

One of the opening features of the recent Pinot Noir NZ 2017 event were wonderfully done videos made by Mike Bennie and Nick Stock. The videos brilliantly dug into each of the Pinot growing regions of New Zealand individually giving a good feel for the people and place of each region in a few minutes of focused interviews with the key players of the wine community.

Check out Mike Bennie‘s (I love that guy) nicely done look at Central Otago and Waitaki Pinot Noir. Thanks to Pinot Noir NZ for posting the video!

Central Otago and Waitaki Pinot Noir NZ 2017 Mike Bennie from Pinot Noir NZ on Vimeo.

 

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Central Otago Pinot Noir

the view from Rippon along Lake Wanaka

Our first day in New Zealand included a walk around tasting hosted by Mount Edward winery in Central Otago. Producers poured two wines each – both Pinot noir – of their choosing. While some offered multiple vintages others selected different cuvées from the same release year. The tasting was an interesting first look at wines for our trip.

While a relatively young region, Central Otago has done well at establishing itself quickly on the world stage for quality Pinot with its own distinctive varietal expression. Younger vines and younger winemakers established an initial reputation for more fruit focused and rounder wines than what one sees from the region today. As vintners have gained experience and become more familiar with their own dirt, and vineyard plantings have expanded into newer subzones that early enthusiasm has deepened into another level of confidence that shows through a greater diversification of styles. At the same time, our several days in Central Otago plus time with the producers later in the trip during the Pinot Noir NZ festivities in Wellington showed that the initial enthusiasm remains. I was impressed with the verve and curiosity that seems common through the people of Central Otago.

Central Otago is one of the most remote growing regions in New Zealand. In the southern part of the southern island it stands as one of the most distant viticultural zones in the world from both other major wine regions and wine markets. Getting off the plane the landscape immediately struck me with familiarity. It shares so much in common with my home in Alaska. The commonality showed through peoples’ personalities there too. I found myself interacting with people in Central Otago as if I’d long known them, and would have to occasionally remind myself it was my first visit and first meeting with them too. I obviously can’t help but have an affection for the area as a result. The quality of the wines shown during our visits was also reliable. That is, the base line of quality for Central Otago was relatively high. If there was issue with a wine it was more often about stylistic preference than winemaking faults.

Central Otago’s presence on the world stage is also coupled with the region’s producers having a strong investment with study abroad. Producers we met tended to speak in relation to other viticultural areas around the world they’d spent time as well as wines they’re often tasting. A surprisingly high proportion of them have spent time working in Willamette Valley, for example, as well as attending Oregon’s International Pinot Noir Celebration. Central Otago though also has an incredibly strong history with Burgundy. The two areas have had an official exchange program for over 11 years that includes support for winemakers to travel and work between the two regions, with program participants placed in major houses for harvest in which ever of the two they are visiting. The program is quite significant with Central Otago being the only growing region in the world that Burgundy does that sort of official exchange.

Following are a handful of the stand out Pinots from the walk around tasting our first night in Central Otago.

Mount Edward

Duncan Forsyth and Anna Riederer poured two vintages of their Mount Edward Pinot noir – the 2013 regional blend and the 2011 Muirkirk Vineyard. The wines speak to the regional signature of Central Otago with their midpalate density, deep toned red fruits and glittering acidity but they also show layers of flavor and a kind of jovial confidence I find pleasing. The Muirkirk carries greater complexity and depth to the Central Otago Pinot, which is refreshing and satisfying. There is plenty of savor here nose through palate with notes of tobacco and just picked herbs housed in mouth stimulating sapidity on the Muirkirk. There is plenty of fruit to the wine but it isn’t about that, rather its about the layers of flavor. Supple tannin gives a sense of something to chew on while that mouth stimulation carries through to a long finish.

Rippon

Nick Mills of Rippon poured their 2013 and 2010 Pinots made from older vines on their home vineyard. You’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t like these wines as their beautifully made and from a distinctive site. If you ever have opportunity to speak with Nick about his family estate and the history of the area it’s also well worth doing. He presented on the subject at the recent Pinot Noir NZ 2017 event and shared his thoughts and practice of taking a multi-generational view to the land. It was an inspiring talk. (Alder Yarrow published a transcript of Nick’s PN NZ 17 talk on his site Vinography that is worth reading. Here’s the direct link to that article: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2017/02/turangawhaewhae_a_maori_expres.html).

The Rippon 2013 offers nuanced perfume full of aromatic woods that persist through to the palate with ample sapidity through a persistent finish. The acidity is mouthwatering and a pleasure, well integrated into a vibrant leanness that carries ample flavor through a lean frame. The 2010 was my favorite of the two, offering additional depth from a bit of bottle age.

Growing up in remote Alaska one of the things I became familiar with was this sense of concentrated aromas and flavors that come from miniaturized plants. Much of the land in Alaska is tundra, which consists, essentially, of a multitude of wild berry and wild tea plants grown in miniature because of the difficult and wet soils beneath them. Walking across tundra is this overwhelming experience of releasing mixed and highly perfumed scents. Because the plants have grown so slowly and so small their scents and flavors are more concentrated and so then also more powerful to experience. Walking over them breaks their aromas free so that every step uncovers a new overwhelming fragrance of wild cranberry mixed with labrador tea to wild blueberry rubbed by a fresh break of pine and a smudge of peat. Growing up with such smells is what led me eventually into the world of wine – outside extreme environments such as Alaskan tundra a glass of wine is the only place left to find such complex scent.

The 2010 Rippon lifts from the glass with that intensity of smell, a multitude of unexpected and concentrated flavors like the smells from a walk across fresh broken tundra. There is a wildness to it carrying a multitude of miniaturized plants. The palate starts dense and savory then lifts into mouth watering sapidity and a flash of those same tundra scents. It’s a wine with plenty of density that moves fresh and lively through the palate.

Prophet’s Rock

Paul Pujol poured both a current and older vintage of his Prophet’s Rock Pinot from their Home Vineyard. The 2009 was one of my stand out wines from the entire trip through New Zealand. As he explained, it was an unusual vintage where fruit came in with uniquely pale color while still having ample tannin. It became important, then, to avoid over extracting for color as it would lead to too much tannin in the glass. The 2009 from Prophet’s Rock offers a wonderfully delicate persistence on both the nose and palate. It’s somehow ethereal, engaging and stimulating drinking simultaneously pretty and savory with an enlivening lightness. It was a wine I wanted to sit and enjoy through the evening.

The 2014 offers notes at a deeper register compared to the lifted prettiness of the 2009. There is immediately greater density and depth to the aromatics that point in the direction of brooding without quite going that far. The palate too offers more power in comparison but still pours through a light bodied frame. I am a fan of that balance Paul pulls off in his Pinot of bringing impressive depth and nuance in still a mouthwatering subtlety. Refreshing, savory and pretty.

Aurum

the Kawarau River of Central Otago

I somehow managed to miss taking a photo of the Aurum 2014 Madeline Pinot Noir (even though I tasted it through multiple vintages no less!) so I’ve snuck in a photo of the beautiful Kawarau River, which we crossed on our way to visit Aurum instead – my apologies though if you want to see the label it is on their own site here: https://aurumwines.co.nz/notes_files/stacks_image_1000.jpg.

Winemaker Lucie Lawrence does the Madeline Pinot entirely as foot tread whole bunch from the 667 clone, which she feels does well with stem inclusion from her home vineyard. The wine is dense and needs time in cellar to fully release its pleasure but it is full, nose through palate, with lush aromatics of rose petal and bush that swaddle a savory backbone. The tannin is ample but succulent rather than aggressive and the acidity comes in with nice balancing length. Let this sit in bottle for a few more years to allow the dense weave of the wine to open but with that it has a lot to offer.

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