Andrew Gunn of Iona estate on his approach to bringing out the best in Pinot Noir from the cool, coastal climate of Elgin and this variety’s growing popularity among South African consumers.
What factors in your view make a Pinot Noir great?
The site is the most important factor as Pinot Noir needs cool summers with minimum bunch exposure to direct sunlight. The growing conditions at Iona between the important months of January and March (July to Sept in the northern hemisphere) are remarkably similar to Burgundy but with slightly lower temperatures and less rain. Although we have huge respect for Burgundy we don’t try to make a Burgundian Pinot Noir, but rather focus on doing the best that can with our terroir. The season dictates the winemaking style, so every year it’s a new challenge. Pinot Noir is a variety that really likes to express itself and the site it comes from; it doesn’t need much help from the winemaker to do that if the site is appropriate.
How has your own approach to getting the best from Pinot Noir changed over the years?
It starts in the vineyard – we make sure the vines and grapes are healthy with no use of synthetic fertilisers and insecticides and we are also committed to converting our farm to 100% organic and biodynamic practices. As our vines are getting older we are achieving more concentration. We hand harvest and make sure that only healthy and the best quality berries end up in the fermentation. Whole berry, natural ferments, some whole bunch depending on the season, as well as gentle pump overs and punch downs later in the ferment all play an important role in getting the best out of our Pinot Noir. Sensitive use of new oak, generally around 30%, ensures fine tannins and good fruit expression.
What sort of evolution in the style and popularity of Pinot Noir are you currently seeing in South Africa?
South Africa is better known for its heavier reds, however consumers are starting to appreciate that despite its lighter colour Pinot can also be a powerful wine. They are also intrigued by the variety and more people want to drink it. Lower alcohol, mid-price point and accessible Pinot is doing well.
What is it about Pinot Noir that gives it such global appeal?
At the top end of the market I think it’s about the ageing potential, complexity and the scarcity of the top red Burgundies. The wonderful fruit and complexity found in Oregon, Central Otago, Mornington Peninsula and the cooler regions of South Africa offer great value.
Is there a winemaker or wine whose expression of Pinot Noir inspires you?
My wife Rozy, our winemaker Werner Muller and I were fortunate to spend two weeks in Burgundy with Remington Norman in 2012 where we visited many of the top producers, but I would venture to say that François Millet of Comte Georges de Vogüé’s approach to Pinot Noir, his modesty, his long term commitment to the domain, intellect and passion appealed to us most.
the drinks business Global Pinot Noir Masters 2013 takes place in February. Presided over by a panel of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, each Pinot Noir is assessed by style and price rather than being judged by country. For more information, click here.