Tags Posts tagged with "pinot noir"

pinot noir

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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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Rajat Parr (pictured above tasting from tank) and Sashi Moorman (pictured below in the Seven Springs Vineyard) of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi wines in Santa Barbara County, and Evening Land Vineyards in Willamette Valley, have become two of the strongest proponents of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the west coast United States. They are also two of the more controversial. In California, their work is strongly associated with the now-retired provocative organisation In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB). Parr was, of course, one of its founders while Moorman made several of the brands poured in its tastings. Before starting IPOB, Parr also famously founded the RN74 restaurant wine list with the promise of no wines over 14% alcohol. While IPOB itself never made such claims, Parr’s association with both it and the under-14% cause inextricably linked the two. The idea led to anger from the California wine establishment attached to defending balance in bigger-bodied wines.

In Oregon, the controversy appears differently. There Evening Land Vineyards (ELV) in its original inception stood as an example of an earlier wave of outside influence in the still mildly insular Willamette Valley. The difficulty there, in its origin, was that the organisation secured a long-term lease on one of the region’s heritage vineyards, Seven Springs, thus reducing the availability of its fruit for long-time locals. After purchasing Willamette Valley’s portion of Evening Land Vineyards in 2014, Parr and Moorman undertook a complete renovation of the project design and winemaking. Most of the previous team left as the original project was dissolving, and the rest departed just after new ownership took hold. The rapid change led to some further dismay on the part of locals. Even so, together Parr and Moorman make some of the finest examples of the varieties in the two states.

SashiMoormanWalkingSevenSprings-7.jpg

What is unique about Parr and Moorman’s wines is not as simple as just making wine under 14% alcohol, nor simply picking earlier, although they do both. The two of them work well together because of their shared vision. While both are attracted to wines of finesse, informed primarily by the great classics of France, they have sought to achieve such style through truly marginal vineyard sites. …

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/parr-and-moorman-light-burgundian-touch

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

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the Kawarua River in Central Otago

As any of you that have followed me for a while know, after in depth trips through a region I like to compile my Instagram photos from the excursion here so that the collection is easier to locate. It’s something various people have asked me to do and has proven fun to revisit.

The last two-plus weeks I’ve been traveling New Zealand wine countries. The New Zealand Wine Growers have put together a truly incredible itinerary. It’s been remarkable. There has also been enough to do in each area that I’ve decided it’s too much to put into just one New Zealand Instagram collection here. Instead, I’ll go ahead and compile the photo collections here by region starting where my trip started, with Central Otago. Between Instagram collections I’ll also post write ups of the associated place and the wines we tasted. Be sure to check out the three pieces already posted here on Central Otago wines. They’re linked below.

Really lovely wines made by a lovely winemaker. Beautiful intensity and intelligence housed in a delicate, pretty, finessed wine with a light palate and pleasing texture. Here Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock making wine from a moderate elevation glacial terrace with underlying chalk and lime in Central Otago. He destems his Pinot then avoids punch downs or pump overs keeping the cap wet with a light sprinkling from a watering can in order to allow delicate fruit expression with balanced structure. As he explains, working harvest in Musigny, he learned the lesson that “a mineral terroir supports no extraction.” Having already seen something like this from his site here in Bendigo the comment clicked and when he returned his approach shifted. Pinots all unfined, unfiltered and lovely. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @paulpujol @nzwineusa

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Mountains of schist through Central Otago. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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To read more on my travels in Central Otago here are three articles I’ve posted here so far.

Stand out Rieslings in Central Otago: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/24/two-stand-out-rieslings-from-central-otago/

A subregions Pinot noir Tasting: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/25/pinot-noir-in-central-otago/

Vintage Variation and the History of Central Otago: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/25/vintage-variation-and-the-history-of-central-otago-pinot-noir/

Cheers!

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Vintage Tasting

Producers in Central Otago pulled older vintages of their Pinot noir as representatives of previous vintages going back to 2001. The tasting served as both an opportunity to discuss the peculiar conditions of each vintage and the history of the region’s winemaking. While the tasting did give insight into the aging potential of the region it also revealed how much winemaking styles have changed for the producers poured. There was clear difference from the older vintage wines to the more recent vintages we’d tasted in other part of the two days in Central Otago. There was only one wine from each year presented so the tasting experience was limited to a single wine set alongside the insights of the winemakers on how that year went. Even so, the discussion was very insightful and it was fascinating to taste through the wines. It provided an interesting introduction to the quite varied growing conditions year to year in Central Otago.

The Wines 

Quartz Reef 2001 Pinot noir

Opening with tertiary aromatics of oiled leather and hints of tobacco the Quartz Reef 2001 transforms on the palate to a youthful, still jaw-tightening Pinot bright with acidity. Even so the flavors are more of fruit leather with accents of oiled leather than fresh, though they have not fallen off the plateau of drinkability. That said, it seems best to drink this wine now if not two or three years ago. The quartz crunch sapidity native to the region shows through the length of this wine, while supple tannin is met by balancing acidity.

Mt Difficulty 2002 Pipe Clay Terrace Pinot noir

Snug, dense aromatics of cherry bark and cherry blossom are followed by a dense fruit-built palate spun through with spice and quartz mineral crunch. With air the flavors open into powdered baking spices of nutmeg, ginger and clove. The wine is lightly angular while still showing fine tannin balanced by acidity. Lightly tactile mouthfeel. Drink now.

Felton Road 2003 Block 3 Pinot noir

With aromatics of cherry and earth lifted by a fresh fir tree note the palate turns to dried red fruits – plum, cherry and raspberry – full with spice and a finish of herbs and leather. Tertiary flavors mix here with bright acidity and that Central Otago crunch that stimulates the palate carrying the wine into a long finish. The palate opens fresh then shifts to fruit leather on the midpalate and finishes with a spiced, herbal and leather close. Drink now or in the next couple years.

Amisfield 2006 Pinot noir

Spiced alpine berries move nose to palate and mix in the mouth with notes of fresh picked tobacco dressed on a structure of succulent, firm tannin with balancing acidity and a wash of sapidity. With a quick, clean finish the flavors close followed by a persistent feeling of palate stimulation. Energetic and stimulating.

Prophet’s Rock 2007 Pinot noir

Subdued aromatics lead to a compact and concentrated palate with mineral depth and length. With air the wine opens to a mix of dried red berries with dried blackberry and currant. A dense midpalate and compact presentation offer still fresh acidity and firm, ample while non-aggressive tannin.

Mount Edward 2008 Pinot noir

Spiced dried fruits on the nose reveal fresh acidity through the palate with flavors of dried fruits and fresh picked herbs all spiced and zesty. Again that mineral, quartz crunch palate stimulation shows here bringing an energetic element all the way through the finish where a lift of cedar and cherry powder suddenly appear. This wine gains freshness with air after opening with notes of fresh melon and spice appearing in the midpalate and nose.

Talking through the Vintages and the Region’s Wine History

from left: Paul Pujol, Rudi Bauer, Matt Dicey, Duncan Forsyth at Prophet’s Rock in Bendigo

Prophet’s Rock hosted our tasting and for the discussion Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward, Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef, Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty and Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock were present. In discussing the vintage conditions through the wines, the quartet also discussed their understanding of the history of wine in Central Otago.

While the region’s first vines and first commercial release wine in 1987 came from the Gibbston subregion, it was vineyards being established in the Cromwell Basin that really established the future success of Central Otago. Reasonable yields were more easily achieved in Cromwell, allowing vintners a better shot at the economic viability necessary to chase true quality.

Gibbston sits in one of the most marginal sections of Central Otago with fruit from the vines in the subzone sometimes decimated before it can be brought in by cold, sometimes unable to get truly ripe. But, like any truly marginal growing region, the vintages it works produce some of the most exciting wines of Central Otago.

As the winemaker quartet described, wines coming out of Cromwell Basin for the first time helped show that Central Otago could make riper style wines in comparison to the austerity first shown from Gibbston. The revelation led to a planting boom in Central Otago and a shift in the epicenter of viticulture to the younger region. Cromwell Basin still holds the highest concentration of vineyards today.

Before 2002, winemakers in the larger region were used to finding austerity in their fruit and struggling to get extraction in the cellar or fruit weight from the vines. Then in 2002 the area was hit with a hot vintage, which on the young vines of the region led to exuberant fruit expression and a ripe, fruit forward, approachable vintage style. As the quartet explained, the 2002 vintage changed the perspective of Central Otago wines and brought more attention to the area at a time when people wanted big wines. At the same time, winemakers in the region were relatively young and excited for the possibility of such expressive fruit after expecting they would always struggle to go beyond austerity of expression. As the winemakers claim, in their youth, most of them happily went with the ripe fruit presence of the vintage and tended towards that style for a few years after as well. At the same time, as they explain, the success of the 2002 vintage also eventually created a new issue of having to show people that the region could do more than just deliver fruit forward wines.

The winemakers describe 2003 as a more even keel vintage in terms of weather, with steady temperatures, leading to more elegant wines.

Both the 2004 and 2005 vintages were cold, showing a return to the growing conditions more typical to those prior to 2002, and giving winemakers a revisit of what they were previously used to working with in terms of fruit expression.

In 2006, warmer conditions led to higher levels of extraction but on fruit that was also more structural. As a result, many people made bigger wines with more rusticity. As the winemakers explain, the combination also led to an interest in cleaner wines overall with a desire to find more finesse in the cellar.

By 2007, the region had been well enough established, and there were enough vineyards surpassing juvenile vines that winemakers began to find the familiarity with the region needed to begin shifting into personal expression of style. At the same time, 2007 was an almost devastating vintage. Paul Pujol, whose wine represented the year described it as the most traumatic vintage of his winemaking career. Snow fell every month of the growing season bringing cold temperatures especially through the early season. Even more, there was ample precipitation during flowering, leading to painfully low yields as well as serious concentration in the wines from the utterly small clusters and tiny berry size. Even so, many of the berries came in without seeds, making it possible to make ultra concentrated wines, not from extraction but from the innate fruit character, without overly assertive tannin.

The 2008 harvest was marked by rain creating huge berries and bunches with less overall concentration in the wines as a result.

The Winemaker Quartet: from left: Paul Pujol, Rudi Bauer, Matt Dicey, Duncan Forsyth

As the conversation continued, Jamie Goode pointed out that with the older vines present in the region today we have begun to see more definition and distinction from the vines, thereby also making the winemaker’s individual intent more apparent through the wines. Duncan Forsyth agrees, stating that he sees a wider fan of variation in styles from winemakers throughout the region. This is also the mark of a region that has begun to find its maturity. While young regions can often show great variation in quality, the exuberance of young vines tends to dictate style (allowing for site discrepancy of course). Central Otago, on the other hand, has an exciting base level of quality that allows for both the particularities of site and the winemaker’s stylistic interest to be more apparent in the wines overall.

Conversations with Central Otago winemakers over the two days we were there also revealed a base level of curiosity that is rather high for any region. There is a lot of experience working abroad showing from many of the winemakers as well as a clear interest in tasting global examples of wine and considering where the wines of their region stand alongside others of the world stage. This speaks well to the likely continued quality growth of the region. It is also admirable considering how geographically challenged Central Otago proves to be. In literal distance it is one of the most, if not the most, remote regions in the world from any other major region, facing, then, simple logistical and so also economic challenges in getting their wines distributed globally. The passion expressed by the Central Otago winemakers, and the persistence they show in such marginal growing conditions makes it well worth facing such difficulties to make sure the rest of us can get their wines in our glasses.

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Tasting through Central Otago

Central Otago master class on Pinot noir of the region, hosted by Lucy Lawrence of Aurum and Grant Taylor of Valli

Aurum winery hosted a Central Otago Pinot noir master class for us with panelists Lucy Lawrence of Aurum and Grant Taylor of Valli. In attendance too were winemakers from each of the other wineries represented. The class focused on structure in pinot noir with a look at climate variation between the subregions as well as vinification techniques in the cellar.

Soils within Central Otago are largely schist based, an unusual characteristic for any subregion in the world. Few are dominated by schist to the extent this area is. Within the schist soils there is still significant variation with some sites showcasing gravel while others feature such rock more pulverized into sand. In some areas(generally at lower elevations) clay has mixed with the two to bring a more robust, muscular quality alongside the intense sapidity of the schist soils. What I found common among the Pinot noirs we tasted was a persistent quartz crunch palate stimulation to the wines. In some it was so intense the palate was ignited by these enlivening sparks while others it felt like more of a light sprinkling pop-pop-pop through the wines. It’s a sort of stimulation I greatly enjoy and in the best wines it brought another level of depth and energy to their overall presentation.

Central Otago proves to be a complex region defined by a central curving valley that follows a series of mountain lakes carved on either side by mountain ranges. So while the center of the region runs north-south along the line of lakes, the area continues over the mountains east-west as well. The variation, then, of climate subtleties between the subregions is significant even if subtle. What ties them all together is the overall marginal nature of the climate and the mountains of schist. Snow fall can be seen in the region’s mountains throughout summer and we even witnessed it accumulating in a snow storm at higher elevations, rain at lower during our two days there. As a result the diurnal shift has a healthy impact on the vines though day time temperatures remain moderate.

The master class was delineated by paired wines discussed side by side to offer greater insight into the climactic conditions of their subregions, as well as considerations of winery technique. All wines selected were from the 2013 vintage.

Flight 1

Both wines were aged in around 1/3 new oak, and fermented on about 30% whole cluster.

Quartz Reef 2013 Bendigo Single Vineyard Pinot noir Bendigo

With bright fruit friendly aromatics and an underlying savory note on the nose, the Quartz Reef moves through the palate with red fruits and a savory crunch. There is a massive push of sapidity here intensified by angular tannin and balancing acidity.

Valli 2013 Gibbston Vineyard Pinot noir Gibbston

While the Valli opens with earthier, spiced and more savory aromatics it flips on the palate to spiced red fruits in a deeper register than seen on the Quartz Reef, still carrying a focus first on acidity and then finer tannin.

The Quartz Reef had the acidity to balance its tannin but the tannin clearly won in the combination and came in a bit angular and tactile, though not aggressively so. It turns out Bendigo tends to bring more tannin to its wines as the area receives very little rainfall, so in its desert climate clusters tend towards thicker skins and smaller clusters. Gibbston, on the other hand, has a cooler climate and seems to be the edgiest subregion with the lowest overall yields of Central Otago. Wines from Gibbston tend to wash the mouth with acidity while the tannin slips in easily beneath.

As the winemakers present described, Gibbston tends towards more floral spice and apparent acidity while Bendigo offers more cherry fruit and can tend towards greater ripeness and higher potential alcohol in comparison.

Flight 2

Felton Road 2013 Block 3 Bannockburn

The vines here are 97% own rooted, planted in 1992. All biodynamic and organic since 2002.

Savory, dark red fruit aromatics come in a bit muted on the palate initially then become more cherry fruited with air. There is a vibrant sapidity throughout with a compact range of flavors highlighting dark herbs and spice character and loads of palate stimulation. Floral notes lift through the back of the palate as the wine opens with air. Finer tannin here with balancing acidity.

Maude 2013 Mt Maude Vineyard Wanaka

Vines here were planted in 1994.

With midtone cherry blossom on both the nose and palate the Maude Pinot offers a bit lighter, more feminine expression with plenty of palate stimulation and just a bit of angular tension through the finish. Small pixelated flavors carry through persistent acidity and tannin both.

The older vines of Central Otago have shifted the overall expression of the wines. As the vines have settled in with age the wines have also become less fruit centered and deeper toned. Central Otago’s initial reputation in Pinot rested in powerful, fruit forward wines with plenty of midpalate. Those wines originate primarily with the verve of a younger region. Winemakers over the couple days we were present described their own exuberance as well as the ripening power of younger vines as being behind that style. Such wines can still be found through Central Otago but as the region has gained maturity the styles have fanned into a greater range of expression. At the same time older vines that handle climactic variation through vintages have given winemakers an easier time for making lighter bodied wines.

As Blair Walter of Felton Road explained, older vines get more stable both in harvest size and also in their ability to self-regulate through weather changes. Young vines on the other hand tend to race to ripening, with sugars often outpacing the chemistry of the rest of the wine. In many cases, to better balance the tannin and acidities of the younger vines winemakers need to let the fruit hang longer, thus creating wines with comparatively higher alcohols. As vines age they also tend to offer a more harmonious relationship between flavor and structure, alcohol and finesse.

The oldest vines in Central Otago are around 25 years of age. The first commercial release from the region was in 1987. Since the earliest vineyards were planted many have gone through replants thanks to frost or freeze but also from the process of dialing in best varieties for the area.

As described by the winemakers at the tasting, Bannockburn as a subregion tends towards simple fruits in young vines but develops more depth of flavor and earthiness with age. Bannockburn also has the highest vineyard concentration currently of the subregions of Central Otago. Wanaka has a long, dry growing season. It is cooler than many of the other subregions and receives more rain as well thanks to the nearby Lake Wanaka, but vineyards closer to the lake also benefit from its moderating influence avoiding genuine frost concerns.

Flight 3

Domaine Thomson 2013 Surveyor Thomson Lowburn

Showing a bigger aromatic footprint than the previous wines and a rounder palate presence as well. The Domaine Thomson carries notes of dark red fruit lightly spiced throughout with a more open, wider reaching weave and a bit less concentration than the previous wines.

Ceres 2013 Composition Bannockburn

Notes of cherry and plum spiced with black tea move through the palate to a clean close with a dry finish. The tannin here is smooth through the mouth while certainly apparent and give a snug, complete finish to the wine. The acidity continues to persist long after the flavors while still lingering with savory spice and the mineral sapidity of the region.

As described by the tasting’s winemakers, Lowburn tends to create quite distinct wines in its youth that become more synchronous with the region overall as they age. Claudio Heye of Domaine Thomson explains that Lowburn Pinot noir tends to be richer with more fruit forward flavors. In his view the higher proportion of gravel in the area includes reflected light to increase ripening without higher ambient temperatures. Even so, as the region gains older vines with deeper roots they tend to be more expressive of soil type and drainage while younger vines tend to show off clone and climate. So, with the preponderance of schist through the region, as the vine ages it tends to be more expressive of schist and the architectural differences of gravel to sand to clay through the subregion than of the microclimate distinctions between subregions. Because of the relative youth of the area’s vineyards winemakers feel they are still very much getting to know the peculiarities of Central Otago’s subzones.

Winemaker Matt Dicey of Ceres and Mt Difficulty has found that younger vines in Central Otago tend to not give more structure from more cellar extraction, so instead winemaker efforts to pull more from the fruit contributed to the bigger wine reputation of the region. As the vines have aged, though, he finds that the clusters are also giving more structure innately to the wines. In this way, he says, it is easier to focus on the texture and elegance of the wine rather than on trying to build its form on the palate.

As Dicey explains, his biggest lesson in the last 15 to 18 years has been letting go of the science to embrace the art of winemaking, thinking more holistically to allow the flow in the process of winemaking to happen. Integral to that process has not been ignoring the science as much as simply knowing the individual steps within the process more intimately. As the basics become more familiar there is less of a need to focus on them.

Flight 4

Prophet’s Rock 2013 Home Vineyard Bendigo

100% destemmed and grown on a glacial terrace of chalk and lime.

Really pretty with notes of wild cherry and cherry bark and light forest accents this wine offers richer complex scents that carry from the nose then lifted through the palate. The palate offers pleasing density while still feeling delicate with deep red violet fruits sprinkled through with spice and a savory element through a long finish. Supple, lightly tactile tannin comes in with balancing acidity for a nice sense of delicacy and persistent.

Aurum 2013 Madeline Lowburn

100% whole cluster.

With lifted aromatics of cultivated rose blossom, bush and bramble and a body of savory depth, this wine opens with an expressive nose and follows with a taut, firm palate. It needs time in bottle to show all it has to offer but there is a lot of depth and substance here with an underlying sense of pure fruit and a nice purity to the wine overall with pleasing palate tension. It is simultaneously feminine and strong in its expression with ample tannin that is still succulent and not aggressive. Notes of rose bloom carry throughout.

In this flight the conversation focused around cellar choices as they relate to growing conditions primarily in relation to the choice to do whole bunch fermentation or not. Winemaker Lucy Lawrence of Aurum explained that she made the Madeline whole cluster Pinot originally as a cellar experiment and was fascinated to find the approach did not simply change something like tannin structure but instead the entire form of fermentation. As she described, the kinetics, temperature changes and arc of fermentation were all entirely different when done with full clusters included. Then in the end she also liked the overall presentation of the wine. While most of the Aurum wines are not done 100% whole cluster the Madeline is.

Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock points out that the choice of whole cluster depends too on the climate and drainage of the site as differing growing conditions impact the lignification of the stems. The elevation and intensity of the soils – underlying chalk and lime – at the Prophet’s Rock site in Bendigo, Pujol expains, mean the wines can easily revolve around structural intensity or extraction and his experience there over time has been much more about taking away techniques to find harmony. In other words, while the more valley floor growing conditions of the Aurum vineyard support a lovely expression of whole cluster fermentation in Pinot it is not clear the mountain conditions of the Prophet’s Rock do as well.

To read and see (he got more photos than I did) more about the Master Class tasting in Central Otago, check out the venerable Jamie Goode‘s write up here: http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/new-zealand/central-otago-pinot-noir-masterclass-focusing-on-structure

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This summer Mark Davidson interviewed me briefly to ask what I like about Australian wine, in particular Pinot Noir. The result is a 2 minute 2 second audio snapshot of what I’ve seen from the producers and wines through some Australian wine travel and persistent follow up tastings and meetings with vintners since.

In it I speak to the importance of tasting global wine as well as having the freedom to go deep at home, the character of Australian pinot, and what gives wine energy.

Here’s the recording:

 

To read more, check out Wine Australia’s write-up on the tasting done on Australian pinot noir at IPNC here:

http://www.wineaustraliablog.com/events/australian-pinot-noir-breaks-ipnc/

Or, read my write up on the event here:

http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2016/08/08/ipnc-master-class-2016-australian-pinot-noir/

Cheers!