Burgundy appreciation is clearly evident among Australia’s winemakers, and among those producing Pinot Noir, it’s an obsession.
But while it’s a costly addiction, it’s also a healthy one – Australia is producing increasingly refined results with the hard-to-grow grape, although winemakers admit they are yet to make the perfect Pinot.
The changes mirror in many respects those seen with Australian Chardonnay, and stem from a focus on cooler-climate sites, planting of better clones, use of low-vigour rootstocks and increasingly attentive viticulture, along with the fact Pinot Noir vines in many parts of the country are older and therefore producing better quality grapes.
Then there’s the improved winemaking know-how, as well as significant changes in cellar practices, such as the rise in whole bunch fermentations and the reduction in new oak use.
Like Chardonnay, the hot spots for quality Pinot Noir are similar – the so-called “Dress Circle” of regions around Melbourne, particularly Geelong, Mornington and the Yarra, as well as – outside Victoria – above all Tasmania.
Also, not unlike Chardonnay, clonal selection is important, although surpassed in terms of impact on style and quality by vine age – and, some say, rootstock. Management of the vines is also particularly important, with impressive results requiring meticulous viticultural practices. Then there’s the winemaking. Similar to Australian Shiraz, whole bunch fermentations are becoming more popular, while the percentage of new oak is dropping away, and the size of maturation vessel increasing.
At Lethbridge Wines, Maree Collis says there’s been “a big revolution in the quality of Pinot Noir, particularly in Victoria”, noting the technical advances in winemaking and desire to experiment, particularly with whole bunch fermentations.
She also stresses the positive influence of the annual Pinot Noir conference started by Yarra Valley producers 10 years ago. It gives winemakers a chance to try Pinot Noirs from around the world as well as share the results of their trials. However, she adds: “Australia is very young when it comes to Pinot Noir.”
Similarly, at Yabby Lake, Keith Harris says: “Pinot Noir is still a work in progress.” Also, he records: “Twenty years ago if we were talking about Pinot Noir in Australia it would have been with reference to just a handful of producers: Bannockburn, Bass Philip, Giaconda and Paringa.”
Meanwhile, he stresses the positive role of better viticultural practices. “Now everyone in Mornington is low cropped with very strictly regulated canopies, and everything is hand picked… You don’t want anything more than two tonnes per acre, and some years we drop 50% of the fruit.”
Likewise, Martin Spedding, owner and winemaker at 10 Minutes by Tractor, is focused on attentive vineyard practices, and describes his approach to Pinot Noir as “meticulous”. He also notes “an uplift in quality” as the vines surpass “10-15 years” in the ground. Summing up advances in Mornington specifically he says: “Vine age, keeping yields under control and professionalism in winemaking means it’s all coming together.”