What to Expect at Pinot2013
Tuesday 22 January
The wine world and his wife will descend on Wellington next week for the country’s three-yearly Pinot Noir love-in. It’s New Zealand’s chance to show what’s so great about the country’s most-planted red grape in its own backyard. This is the fourth time journalists, winemakers and pinot lovers have converged on the country’s windy capital for four days of fresh-idea-filled forums and after hour’s fun.
But what makes New Zealand Pinot Noir so interesting that it is worthy of a four-day conference? Well, when it’s good, it’s very very good – my hat goes off to wineries including Rippon Estate in Wanaka, and Martinborough producers Escarpment and Ata Rangi, that have consistently delivered Pinots the country can be proud of. But when it’s not good, New Zealand Pinot Noir is a dry red wine that is easy to drink but not something you’d want to go and champion as the country’s finest.
Since the first Pinot Noir conference in 2001, the country’s vines have had time to mature. Today, many of the country’s Pinot Noir vines are reaching a decent level of maturity and thus the fruit they are producing is getting better, and will continue to improve. There’s also better vine material, a better understanding of what works and where plus a greater understanding of how to treat this noble variety.
The country’s winemakers are also getting more mature in their attitudes towards Pinot Noir. While the fruit-forward drink-me now Pinot Noirs have been commercially successful, they haven’t shown the elegance nor finesse that you find in the best Pinot Noir. But the country’s winemakers have been running trials and symposiums in a bid to refine the wines and it is an exciting time to be following their progress.
So, if you’re in Wellington between January 28 and 31, chances are you’ll see many of the country’s leading winemakers and a smattering of the world’s top wine journalists in Pinot-mode. More likely, they’ll be seen after hours in a bar around Cuba Street or Courtenay Place, drinking and dancing – some until dawn. My advice for those wishing to get to the end of the conference in one piece? Nothing good happens after midnight!
***Venue Change at Aromatics Symposium in Nelson***
Organisers of the Nelson International Aromatics Symposium 2013 say the event will go ahead next weekend in spite of yesterday’s devastating fire at the Moutere Hills Community Centre, where the event was to be held.
The Nelson Wineart event has been held at the Moutere Hills Community Centre since 2007.
Symposium Chairman Patrick Stowe, of Rimu Grove Winery, said the organising committee was devastated to hear the news of yesterday’s fire. Arrangements have been made to relocate the symposium to Seifried Estate’s Restaurant and Function Centre.
Waipara Pinot File
Sunday 6 January
Take a bunch of Master of Wine students, add a week of seminars and then give them a quiz at the end. Inevitably, brain cells will be fried and confidence battered but they should be able to name the four major wine producing regions of New Zealand’s South Island, right?
Wrong! And this is the worry. It took yours truly, a New Zealand resident to remind everyone that Waipara/North Canterbury existed. Marlborough, Central Otago and Nelson were all ticked off without worry but the fourth region – what could it be?
If this is the state of play for Master of Wine students, who should have a mastery of wine general knowledge at their fingertips before even embarking upon the course, then where the hell is Waipara/North Canterbury for the rest of the wine drinking population? And herein lies the problem.
Which is a shame, because they make some pretty good booze. I’ve been impressed by the aromatic whites in the past – particularly the Rieslings (most notably Pegasus Bay) and even (God forbid) Pinot Gris.
With wine conference Pinot 2013 on the horizon, and a free day in earthquake-damaged Christchurch over the Christmas period, a quick trip up to Waipara, just an hour’s drive north seemed timely.
So, off I went up State Highway 1 – the country’s major road, which has just one lane for the majority of its length. Astounding but not altogether unsurprising when you consider there are just over 4 million people living in New Zealand.
Waipara might not be as well known as it might like to be but Pinot Noir lovers should be keeping a watchful eye on a number of its producers.
Waipara Pinot Noir has been characterized by “greater barnyard, herbal and violet aromas and in-mouth fruit density/concentration” in Elizabeth Tomasino’s thesis on New Zealand Pinot Noir, which is part of her doctorate at local university Lincoln.
To some extent that is true. Sitting half-way-ish between Marlborough and Central Otago, its Pinots have a density somewhere between a serious Marlborough Pinot and a butch Central Otago style. The herbal and violet character are certainly apparent throughout the wines of the region and there are a large number that are savoury.
But the picture isn’t that simple.
Waipara has three main soil types: Glasnevin gravels, Glenmark glacial clays and limestone-derived clays.
The gravels are free-draining, low-in-nutrient, bony soils in the southern part of the Waipara Valley. They could be compared to the gravels in Marlborough - both are former river beds. The Pinot styles from this area are lighter in style with juicy, fruit-forward appeal. There’s little structure, hardly any tannin and would be best served chilled a la Beaujolais. A couple of producers including Pegasus Bay and Bellbird Spring are making more serious styles but these soils just don’t give a burly structure.
The most exciting area in Waipara, in my opinion, seems to be in an area known as Omihi, north of the small town of Waipara. The vineyards are on slopes - which is relatively unusual for New Zealand - facing north and north-west. The soils here are limestone-derived clays. You can see the white limestone outcrops at the top of the hills and these have eroded over time to produce clays. The higher you go up the hills, the greater the limestone content in your soil; further down the slopes, the clay content increases. These soils are giving a greater density, weight and savoury character to the producers’ wines, which you don’t find in the fruit grown on the gravels less than 10km away.
The Glenmark glacial clays around the township of Waipara – which you certainly couldn’t call glamorous – produce a style that is a halfway house between the Glasnevin gravels and limestone-derived clays of Omihi.
Picks of my regional tasting 27/12.
2010 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir (Glasnevin gravels)
Fragrant feminine nose, herbal and violet character with a touch of pencil lead. Light bodied style with good fruit concentration, fine acidity and fine tannin providing some grip. Smoky oak supports the fruit. 17.5
2009 Mountford The Rise (Omihi)
Perfumed: plum, violets and red cherry with a hint of VA in a good way. Shows good mid palate weight and a very fine line of acidity. Taut mineral finish – could it be the limestone? 18
2010 Crater Rim Coronary Hill (Omihi)
Not a great gift for those with a dicky ticker but this Pinot certainly shows potential. Dense and brooding, savoury. Tightly wound at this stage and unwilling to give up its fruit easily. High level of fruit concentration with smoky oak supporting the whole. 18
-With thanks to Black Estate for hosting the tasting and the Waipara tiki-tour. Its 2010 Omihi Series Pinot Noir floats my boat too. Good stuff.
The Year That Was 2012
Sunday 30 December
Approaching 2013, it appears that December passed my blog by in a whirlwind of deaths and marriages, and rejected master of wine synopses in between a full-time job and Christmas shopping. I am called the queen of the thoughtful gift by my family but this year, I may have lost this title in the end-of-year hubbub.
It’s been a year of ups and downs but at the top of the ups is passing the Master of Wine tasting exam at the second go to add to my theory pass. After much whooping, jumping up and down and Champagne drinking, I realized that I had to think of a dissertation topic, which I had not given much thought to previously. Let’s face it, so few people pass the MW tasting exam I didn’t want to tempt fate by thinking ahead. Unfortunately, that’s landed me in a bit of bother. My first dissertation proposal that I sent in to the Master of Wine moderator was sent back telling me that my topic was basically a no-go. 20 hours of research down the drain.
This meant December was a mad rush to come up with plan B. I needed a new theme, many visits to the local library for research purposes, to speak to experts in the field and write up something worthy by the week before Christmas. I am now waiting to find out if my new topic (which has to be handed in anonymously so I can’t tell you what it is) is going to satisfy the moderator. This means I can’t do anything over the Christmas period but wait, losing more vital weeks before handing it in in June. Perhaps I will have to submit in 2014, as the new title requires the work of a small army. No wonder so many people falter at the last hurdle.
Looking forward to the coming year, there’s Pinot 2013 in Wellington to look forward to. I’m on a panel along with Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Tim Atkin MW and Matt Kramer, which means I’ll have to think of something intelligent to say. There’s hopefully a trip to Vinexpo planned in June and who knows, if I can get that dissertation in in time, there may be two letters after my name in September. And that, like tea and dunking biscuits, would be nice.
New Zealand Wine in 2015
Monday 26 November
What shape and size will the New Zealand wine industry be in 2015? That’s the question the country’s wine body New Zealand Winegrowers has been asking.
The result is a new Vineyard Register, which shows that New Zealand’s wine regions now host 34,269 hectares of vines bearing fruit. To put that figure into context, neighbouring Australia’s surplus vineyard area in 2009 was about the same size as today’s New Zealand industry.
The 2012 vineyard figure is 669ha higher than the last register in 2009, which seems odd. Anyone who has toured the country’s wine regions in the past three years will know that planting has not been on anyone’s mind while the country tried to deal with the fallout caused by a record harvest in 2008, which took the industry by surprise. Winegrowers admits “that most of this [669ha] increase is related to underestimates within the 2009 survey rather than increased plantings in the intervening years.”
Indeed, wineries have been concentrating on opening new markets and increasing sales to deal with increased production rather than putting more plants in the ground. Philip Manson, New Zealand Winegrowers’ general manager for sustainability, explains: “Post-2008 vintage, there was a period that the sector’s supply of wine got ahead of their demand at the time. The focus of most of the sector since that time has been building markets, focusing on value growth. Our vintages subsequent to 2008 have allowed us in large measure to redress the supply demand imbalance, and we have grown markets significantly.”
It was bad news for grape growers, who struggled to find buyers for their fruit post-2008. But what a difference a harvest makes.
After a smaller than predicted 2012 vintage (-18%), the country has rapidly gone from oversupply to undersupply. There have been stories circulating that planting has started up again but we’ll have to wait until Winegrowers undertake a survey of the country’s nurseries in February to find out more about the level of new plantings. Nevertheless, the latest report finds that the industry’s producing vineyard will have increased by just 683ha by 2015.
All the data shows that bulk prices are rising and land transactions are on the rise as supply runs dry. A PWC report published this month stated “given the current supply shortage, wine companies will either seek to acquire more vineyards or enter into longer term supply arrangements to secure their fruit.” This is well illustrated by last week’s purchase of a 2000ha sheep and beef station in Marlborough by Brent Marris of Marisco Vineyards. In a press release, it claimed that its sales were growing at the equivalent of a massive 100ha a year and thus it intends to plant 100ha on the new property in 2013.
It is entrepreneurs like Marris, which continue to make Marlborough the dominant force in New Zealand’s wine industry. The country’s largest region currently accounts for 66 percent of the country’s vineyards. Its dominance is set to remain with 430ha of the estimated 683ha increase based in the Marlborough region. There will be smaller increases in Hawke’s Bay (+97ha), Canterbury (+89ha), Nelson (53ha) and just a 5 hectare increase anticipated in Pinot Noir-producing Central Otago.
On the varietal side, the largest increases will be seen in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir so don’t expect the pair’s dominance throughout the country to be challenged.
There’s been plenty of interest in ‘alternative’ varieties but from the new figures, they won’t attain any sort of critical mass in the near future. Albarino, for example, has been attracting lots of media interest but there are only 13ha across New Zealand. By 2015, there will still only be 23.8ha – it’s hardly going to be the new Sauvignon Blanc, which will cover more than 20,000ha. Similarly, the nation’s Gruner Veltliner plantings - that many journalists are wetting their pants about - are set to increase by a less than impressive 5ha to 36ha, so don’t get too excited.
Thankfully, the Muller Thurgau plantings are going to dwindle but there are some other interesting varieties on the register that are worthy of being in an oddball section in Jancis Robinson’s new grape bible: Albany Surprise, Breidecker, Osteiner and Seibel all make an appearance.
Kolor, a teinturier (red fleshed variety) is also set for a marginal rise. It will be planted by Yealands Estate to add colour to Sauvignon Blanc. It has already released the first ‘Sauvignoir’ in the domestic market, using Kolor from Chile to bring the red hue to the wine.
But Sauvignoir isn’t going to transform the New Zealand wine industry. By 2015, the vineyard area is going to be slightly larger but the story remains much the same: Marlborough Savvy and Pinot Noir are here to stay.
Giving Nelson A Second Try
Tuesday 13 November
“Nelson consistently wins more awards than other wine region in New Zealand, per hectare of vines planted,” the region’s wine association announces on the first page of its glossy wine tasting journal.
The journal arrived on my doorstep with 15 aromatic whites from the region, and I was hoping these wines would impress. I have been to Nelson just once despite living in New Zealand for nearly three years, and on that occasion, I left feeling disappointed with the overall quality of the region’s wines with the exception of Neudorf’s top wines and Seifried’s sweet Riesling. So, when this case arrived, branded as the “First XV” in a nod to the country’s passion for rugby, it was the perfect opportunity to give Nelson a second try.
Nelson sits in the northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s just 90 minutes’ drive west of Marlborough, the country’s major wine-exporting region, which is now synonymous with zingy Sauvignon Blanc. Most Nelson wineries sit fewer than 6 kilometres from the coast, creating a temperate climate and the area also boasts the country’s most sunshine hours.
Unfortunately, the Nelson First XV were not nearly successful as the country’s rugby team, the All Blacks. Certainly, there were no world beating wines here – no Dan Carters kicking a goal or Richie McCaws leading the line-up. I couldn’t find any cause for excitement from the selection, which included a Gruner Veltliner, several Rieslings, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminers.
In fairness, they are pure, fresh and have moderate alcohol levels but so do many other aromatic whites in New Zealand and the rest of the world. There’s no sense of the unique somewhereness that every wine lover searches for.
I enjoyed the 2011 Kahurangi Estate Dry Riesling, which had fine acidity, taut structure, and a raspberry coulis and white peach character while the 2009 Waimea Classic Riesling was similarly taut and linear with just 12% alcohol, and piercing lime, lemon and white peach characters, giving both a 17 out of 20 – so, a low silver in the medal stakes.
The selection of Pinot Gris were easygoing and balanced but had nothing to offer that I couldn’t find elsewhere while the Gewurztraminers were simple, lacking concentration, and on a number of occasions were unbalanced – managing phenolics and residual sugar are two elements that need attention. There were also pear drop and boiled sweet aromas in too many wines. This is a tell-tale sign of cool fermentation, and can be found in whites across the world. These characteristics say more about the winemaking than the region, and I’d like to see producers moving away from these low temperatures.
I shared the samples with my colleagues, which include a Geisenheim-trained, ex-Frescobaldi viticulturist, a French winemaker that has worked under the Lurtons and Michel Rolland in Bordeaux, and several sommeliers. Their verdict? Similarly underwhelmed.
“There’s nothing you can eat with these wines. There’s too much flavour, too much sugar,” said one.
“I’m not excited,” said another. Indeed the wow factor was lacking in the wines, in sharp contrast to the region’s scenery. Nelson is a beautiful region sitting at the top of New Zealand’s South Island and attracts plenty of tourists heading to the region to walk or kayak the Abel Tasman or kick back in this artsy community.
Most wineries in Nelson are small and sell all their production to a loyal local customer base and passing tourist trade. However, if they have ambitions to be as highly esteemed as the country’s rugby team on an international scale, there is still work to be done.