Monday 23 April
New Zealand has held a Pinot workshop in the spa town of Hanmer for more than 20 years. Following Pinot 2010 in Wellington, Marlborough producers decided to set up their own workshop to get serious about this fickle grape.
While Hanmer has sumptuous hot pools, Marlborough producers hold their get-together at a school campground! Whoever thought it would be a good idea to hold wine tastings at a centre with an adventure playground was asking for trouble. I am reliably informed injuries have been sustained in the name of Marlborough Pinot Noir.
Ben Glover, winemaker at Wither Hills, says: “This is modelled on the Hanmer experience but we really need to encourage our own region to take Pinot seriously.”
Indeed, Marlborough Pinot Noir has an image as simple and juicy. Serious Pinot drinkers have looked to Martinborough or Central Otago for complex, structured Pinot Noir. But Marlborough producers aren’t content with the status quo.
Anna Flowerday, co-owner of Te Whare Ra, says: “Marlborough gets accused of being too fruity and not complex but that’s a vine age thing. Now we have really good clones and really good sites and that’s why I think Marlborough Pinot has improved.”
Certainly older vines and sites, particulary in the southern Wairau Valley such as Benmorvan and Clayvin vineyard, are showing promising results but this year’s campground convention concentrated on stems in Marlborough Pinot Noir.
Flowerday explains: “We have a whole day when people bring trial wines. This year everyone brought stem trials from the 2011 vintage. We did some really great flights with no stems, 20% stems vs 50%. We found some interesting stuff.”
“Some people swore blue murder that they would never used stems and now they are considering it,” she adds. “Stems is more of a finesse thing giving wines an extra layer. You get secondary characteristics. The stems give the palate width and a floral perfumed character.”
Across the road at Wither Hills, Glover has also been experimenting with grape stems. He was cautious at first, worried that stems would bring green flavours and astringency. Today, the winery’s standard Pinot generally has 5-12% stems in the ferment. He has also done barrel trials with up to 100% stems. “It was pretty cool. It really swung the pendulum, giving the wines white pepper, lifted notes…It kept the bright fruit at bay.”
While I personally love stems in my New Zealand Pinot Noir, providing structure and line to the soft fruit, it doesn’t always work. Let’s face it, no-one wants astringency in a Kiwi Pinot. Flowerday adds: “We need to do it very cautiously on younger vines because they don’t have the concentration of fruit.”
In addition to vine age, the weather also appears to play a part. “Lignification is seasonal; a Frenchman would say it’s terroir. Personally, I think longer hang time is conducive to lignification,” says Glover. He also notes that some blocks tend to lignify early while others don’t. Clay soils, in his opinion, inhibit lignification too.
With the 2012 harvest now in full swing, those “serious” Pinot producers will again be doing stem trials to take back to the 2013 edition of Marlborough’s campground convention. Let’s hope someone packs the first aid kit.
This blog has also been published on Pinot NZ 2013