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Pinot Noir 2013 – Day One: Central Otago

By January 28, 2013No Comments
Pinot Noir 2013 the triennial Pinot Noir conference that is arguably New Zealand’s most important wine promotion event began in Wellington with a traditional Maori powhiri and keynote addresses by Matt Kramer and Sam Neill. Matt Kramer’s address challenged the Pinot Noir producers of New Zealand to make a leap of faith in eschewing the accepted modern grapegrowing and winemaking practices that led to uniformly, relatively high quality wines that were similar in style, but also wines that would never reach true greatness. Kramer put forward his ideas on how to achieve nuance and quality that would lift our wines into to very top level. It was an address that created much thought and discussion for the rest of the day. Neill’s address was much more light-hearted and humorous, but equally well-received and arguably more entertaining. The keynote addresses were a very strong start to the conference.
Central Otago
Delegates were assigned to one of three venues where presentations of wines from different regions were conducted with plenty of tasting on offer. I attended the Central Otago and Waitaki Valley venue. Following an introduction to the region in terms of location, climate, geology, geography and history, wines from 36 producers were open for tasting. The morning session concentrated on wines from the very highly regarded 2010 vintage. As with such tastings, there were too many wines to taste from too many producers in the allotted time, if one wish to discuss with the personnel their philosophies and winemaking detail in any depth. However the situation where a strong line-up of labels, all from the same general district made appreciation and comparison much easier, than say in the past conferences, where all of the producers were housed under one roof. The wineries involved certainly enjoyed the more interactive experience with the delegates than the earlier events.
I managed to taste around 3 dozen wines, while taking the time to converse with the proprietors and winemakers present, and this in around an hour available to do so before lunch. The highlights for me in sheer interest, impact and quality as far as quick impressions were:
  • Burn Cottage 2010 – complex layers and underlying power and structure
  • Carrick ‘Excelsior’ 2010 – tight and concentrated with very fine textures, and length
  • Gibbston Valley ‘School House’ 2010 – concentrated with an iron core, but fine features
  • Grasshopper Rock 2010 – beautifully sweetened fruit and great elegance of structure
  • Hawkshead Bannockburn 2010 – fully ripe, dark fruited and a bit of a statement
  • Maude ‘Mount Maude Vineyard’ 2010 – an amazing array of flavours with whole bunch input
  • Terra Sancta ‘Slapjack Creek’ 2010 – tight, densely packed, with latent richness to unfold
  • Valli ‘Gibbston Vineyard’ 2010 – pure, driven with beautiful line and length
Duncan Forsyth – Mount Edward
Staunch Central Otago Winemaker
The afternoon session looked at older vintages from all of the exhibitors. Two questions were posed by the producers. Firstly, how was the stereotypical Central Otago Pinot Noir fruitiness perceived in terms of positive and negatives? Discussion brought out preferences for and against the fruit-forward character, with a move to prefer seeing greater textures and structure being built into the wines, especially with vine age, vineyard maturity and growing maturity of the winemakers. Clearly different vineyards and producers are at different stages of their growth and development, so uniformity would never be possible. My opinion would be to celebrate the diversity, with beauty and quality being able to be seen in all styles.

The subjects of: Ageworthiness of the Wines, and Expression of Sub-region were less conclusive. Some discussion was focused on the factors responsible for aging, and if indeed longevity is necessarily a desirable trait and marker for quality. The format of the tasting was not the most conducive for exploring the question of sub-regional expression, and the accepted view by most was that other inputs were stronger in the character of the wine over sub-region and terroir. My approach with these points in the back of my mind was to seek if wines aged gracefully, and to see if there was a consistency of character and identity, this being evidence of terroir or sub-region being detectable.

Again, I managed to taste around 3 dozen wines, each winery showing two or three wines together, for comparison. Interesting for me were:
  • Mount Edward ‘Morrison Vineyard’ 2011 and 2008 – both wines showing finesse of style and elegance of proportion and a core line
  • Mt Difficulty ‘Target Gully’ 2010 and 2003 – a very wide separation in terms of primary and secondary fungal flavours, but both wines possessing superb acidity and drive
  • Peregrine 2011, 2009 and 2007 – not a big style, but more supple, with aromatics and a degree of sweetness. Fruits sources varying just slightly, but an avoidance of winemaker interference and input, the wines showing a consistency
  • Pisa Range ‘Black Poplar’ 2010, 2007 and 2003 – a clear gradation in fruit expression from primary to secondary then tertiary. Clearly ageworthy, but my preference for the freshness and youth
  • Quartz Reef ‘Bendigo Estate Vineyard’ 2011 and 2001 – both from magnum. The 2011 a stupendous wine with drive, intensity, and wonderful fragrances, the 2001 being the first-ever crop, this wine fully mature and with complex waves of savoury, gamy interest
  • Rockburn 2011 and 2002 – the younger wine with finesse and slender proportions but lovely oak spicing, the 2002 a full, rounded and still dense wine, quite developed in flavour, but aging at a snail’s pace
  • Surveyor Thomson 2010 and 2007 – the younger still tight, restrained, somewhat locked up, but with sweetness, but the older wine with much greater richness and completeness. This label requires the bottle-age to show its best
  • Valli ‘Gibbston Vineyard’ 2011 and 2006 – the 2011 clearly lighter, cooler with higher acidity, the 2006 showing blacker fruits and an iron heart, but both wines featuring silky textures
  • Wild Earth 2009 and 2008 – the same fruit source essentially, but vintage variation, these two against the norm, with the 2009 less sweet, drier in texture, but the 2008 richer, juicier and finer in grip and extract

In retrospect, quite shockingly, I did not taste or note wines from stars such as Felton Road, Ostler, Rippon and many more. If only I had another day! www.pinotnz.co.nz

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