Reducing Extraction in Pinot Noir: Thoughts from Prophet’s Rock Winemaker Paul Pujol
Elaine Chukan Brown
WHILE RELATIVELY YOUNG, CENTRAL Otago has quickly risen to the fore as one of the world’s top Pinot Noir-focused wine regions. Its wine erupted onto the scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, showcasing a fruit-forward style with plenty of amplitude. As vine age and winemaker experience have increased, Central Otago Pinot has developed a broader range of styles. In the last several years, one of the key shifts has been reducing and rethinking extraction in the cellar. Wineries such as Felton Road, Aurum, Doctor’s Flat and Amisfield, as examples, have moved from fuller styles with both more tannin and fruit matter to progressively lighter weight, lithe wines that retain Central Otago fruit character while increasing site transparency. With it, the freshness of the wines has also increased. While picking earlier is one aspect of the change, the more significant difference has come from reducing handling in the cellar.
Winemaker Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock was one of the first in the region to make this marked shift in winemaking. While other winemakers have reduced cellar-handling by decreasing punch-downs per day, Pujol has taken an even stronger approach by reducing his punch-downs to only one for the entire length of the fermentation process. He also does only two short pumpovers in that time, one early in fermentation to give a bit of air to the yeast and one at the end for homogenization without aeration. In each case both pump-overs are short and do not add significantly to extraction. Instead, Pujol chooses to merely keep the cap wet during the fermentation process using a literal garden-style watering can to sprinkle wine over it once or twice a day as needed. In Burgundy and the Rhône Valley it is not uncommon for winemakers to eliminate punch-downs during fermentation in a similar fashion. However, the choice is essentially unheard of in New World wine regions. Pujol started making the change in technique with his 2009 vintage of Prophet’s Rock, committing more fully to it over the next few years.
Tasting through multiple cuvées and across all Prophet’s Rock vintages, as well as with winemakers who utilize similar practices in both France and elsewhere, gives a picture of the effect …
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