Many people would say it was a brave decision to write and publish a book about Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Besides the obvious fact that it is a specialist subject, it is only in the last decade that Pinot Noir has become a significant variety, recently overtaking Chardonnay as the second most planted grape, but a long distance behind Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, our wine industry is touting its impact on the world scene, but New Zealand Pinot Noir’s success has not been affirmed yet. Even within these shores, Pinot Noir must hold its place alongside the Bordeaux varieties and withstand the increasing attention from the wonder red grape Syrah.
However, John Saker senses Pinot Noir’s place in the scheme of things and it is very clear that he has a passion for the grape, the places where it is grown, the wines and the people behind them. The book is written from the heart and soul, and because of that it is a good and accessible read. John’s prosaic style makes the book flow, and the analogies and images evoked by his writing lifts and brightens what could be a serious or mundane topic for many readers. All that is required is a casual interest in drinking wine – Pinot Noir, of course, and John will take you into the history, the growing and making, and the myriad of options available to the producer, and who to look out for if one was considering buying and drinking a good example. Reading John’s book provides a sense of pleasure and satisfaction that you have supported the grape and wine.
Supporting the writing is the excellent photography of Aaron McLean. It captures the beauty of the vineyard sites, the work and the people. The mood of many of the images is striking. Their captioning however is not consistently clear, and distracts and detracts a little.
From a wine professional and keen wine enthusiast’s viewpoint, Saker has recorded the essence of the Pinot Noir scene in this country. It is like visiting friends and introduces people who should be friends, if not already the case. He highlights key Pinot Noir producers with succinct profiles. The choices are sound and generally includes the important ones, though they could be seen as eclectic. However, there is sufficient detail about them in terms of philosophies, vineyard holding and winemaking techniques, as well as the style of the wines. A little more technical detail and data, such as addresses, contact details would make the book a little more practical and useful.
John Saker has made a welcome addition to New Zealand wine literature, and it would be wonderful if it grows the interest, passion and drinking of New Zealand Pinot Noir. John may be before his time, or else he has the foresight to be the first in championing what should be our most important red wine grape. I trust the book will be well-read by a wide audience.
– Raymond Chan
Pinot Noir – The New Zealand Story, John Saker, Random House, Auckland, 2010