A whole bunch of Pinot
Tuesday 10 April
Single vineyard Pinot Noirs are now emerging in New Zealand faster than Usain Bolt. Whether some of those ‘single vineyard’ wines are truly representative of a site is sometimes questionable in such a young country, but you have to start somewhere.
Larry McKenna, of Escarpment Vineyards in Martinborough was a truly early starter, making his first single vineyard Kupe in 2003. “It was the first single vineyard wine and the beginning of the concept from a particular part of the vineyard,” he says. “You have to have vine age to make single vineyard wines.”
And you also have to have decent weather. The following year, there was no Kupe. From the 2006 vintage he then added three more single vineyard wines: Kiwa, Te Rehua and Pahi only to be scuppered by weather again: in 2007, there were no single vineyard wines “because the vintage was not good enough,” he adds.
McKenna is influenced by Burgundy’s Domaine Dujac having spent a couple of vintages there in the 1990s. And Dujac loves to use stems in its winemaking, which is how I find myself on a dark night in central Auckland at an Escarpment tasting.
I am interested in stems/whole bunch fermentation in the production of New Zealand Pinot Noir. As, it seems, are the rest of the country’s serious Pinot winemakers – something I’ll be writing more about in the run up to Pinot 2013 in Wellington.
Stems add, in my opinion, spiciness to the wine, complexity, drive and structure, which generally improves ageability. Whole bunch ferments tend to have floral aromatics and lifted notes. So far so good.
McKenna adds more stems to his ferments than anyone else I know in New Zealand. Up to 40% of McKenna’s tanks are filled with whole bunches – stems ‘n’ all – with the rest of the vat filled with destemmed berries.
Why aren’t more people doing it? Well, you have to make sure your stems aren’t horribly green and thus bitter. Eventually stems turn brown – what’s known as lignification – but this often happens far too late in the day for Pinot Noir. It sometimes happens but no-one’s quite sure why. McKenna says “it’s a combination of warmth, UV light and vine age” amongst other things. In the 2011/12, season warmth and UV light have been in short supply so there will be fewer stems in his wines this year.
Wines using stems need a fair amount of stuffing to support the use of stems without looking green and bitter. This requires good base material so low yielding vines with age that have been planted in the right site in the first place. So, the fruit driven simple styles of many New Zealand producers are unlikely to feature stems but for those who are serious about making serious Kiwi Pinot, it’s a realm that is being explored.
McKenna has released the 2010 vintage of his single vineyard wines, which are currently as tight as a Yorkshireman’s wallet. While the alcohol on the Pahi and Te Rehua Pinot Noirs are a little hot on the finish, they are truly complex. Pahi is my pick of the bunch showing a tight, linear structure, and great core of fruit on the mid palate. It has purity of fruit showing plum with florals and violets (likely from the whole berry fermentation). Oak-derived coffee and cedar tones are still prominent but with time they will mellow. Patience required. An 18/20 in my tasting notes. $61.99 Fine Wine Delivery Co