Factors combine to help NZ Pinot Noir come of age

A combination of vine age, clonal selection and collaboration have all helped New Zealand Pinot Noir to come of age, writes Rupert Millar

Pinot Plantings in Central Otago

Pinot Plantings in Central Otago

A few years ago, Martin Lam, of the now sadly closed Ransome’s Dock, declared that if New Zealand’s winemakers achieved in the next 30 years what they had already done in the previous 30, then they would be “rivalling the Côte d’Or for terroir complexity”. A few years is not 30, so perhaps they are still some way off, but how is New Zealand’s Pinot Noir offering evolving?

What regional differences and styles are coming to the fore? How does it fit into the global Pinot offering? This latter point is particularly intriguing when one considers the situation in Burgundy and, to a point, California.

With Burgundy attracting more attention in the world of fine wine collecting and investment, coupled with some painfully small recent vintages which are contributing to inexorable price rises, is now the time for New Zealand to assert itself as the Pinot-lover’s go-to nation? Firstly, Pinot’s position in New Zealand. Figures from the New Zealand Winegrowers show that in the past 10 years export sales by volume have rocketed by 743%. In the year ending June 2012 the total exports reached 10.5 million litres.

Plantings too are now substantial, around 11,925 acres, or 4,825 hectares (see box-out for regional breakdown). Chris Stroud, UK director of New Zealand Winegrowers, reports: “Pinot Noir is the most important red variety in New Zealand and represents 15% of total plantings and just over 9% of total production.” The forecast for Pinot is that it will maintain this acreage well into 2015 and presumably beyond, Sauvignon Blanc continuing to reign supreme probably forever.

Many producers will continue to say that there is still a “learning curve” to navigate, but a combination of vine age, clonal selection and collaboration has definitely brought the country’s Pinot production to what Amelia Jukes, director of Hallowed Ground calls a “very exciting time”.She continues: “At the Pinot conference (held in New Zealand earlier this year) it was overwhelming how impressive the wines were and how the producers were working together.

They have real camaraderie and are really striving to promote the wines.” Hätsch Kalberer, winemaker at Fromm in Marlborough, believes that a “cornerstone” of the development of the variety in New Zealand has been the annual workshops initiated by winemaker Larry McKenna.

He explains:“This created an extremely fast learning process with everyone benefiting from the combined understanding of all participants and you could see the quality improving within a few years to a point, where practically all winemakers producing commercially sound and often excellent wine.”

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