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Marlborough is ‘the region to watch’ for Pinot

Marlborough is “the region to watch” for Pinot Noir from New Zealand, said Nigel Greening of Central Otago’s Felton Road when speaking at an event in London this week.

The masterclass, which was entitled The Evolution of New Zealand Pinot Noir, was held in London’s New Zealand House on Tuesday 16 May

Presenting a selection of New Zealand Pinot Noirs with Larry McKenna of Martinborough’s Escarpment in the UK on Tuesday, Greening expressed his increasingly high regard for the Pinots from Marlborough, even though he has no vineyards in the region, which is, of course, most famous for its Sauvignon Blancs.

Having shown attendees of the masterclass two Pinots from Churton – a biodynamic producer in Marlborough – he commented, “Of all the regions in New Zealand, Marlborough is the one to be watching, more than any other.”

Continuing, he explained that this region’s success with Pinot Noir lagged behind other parts of the country, such as Nelson, Martinborough and Central Otago, because early Pinot plantings were made in low-lying coastal sites with thinner soils – the parts of Marlborough that were much better suited to Sauvignon Blanc.

“Producers started off planting Pinot in Sauvignon Blanc lands, and then realised quickly that it was not working, so they looked to heavier soils and the hills to replant,” he said, adding, “So Marlborough is behind the game [with Pinot}, but now it is getting vine age, the vineyards are getting into their teens, and so we are seeing more really exciting wines now from Marlborough.”

Agreeing with Greening, McKenna said, “In the early days, Marlborough was more interested in Sauvignon Blanc growth, so Pinot Noir got ignored for 5-10 years, and Martinborough and Otago got the jump on them.”

He then said, comparing his own region with Marlborough, “Marlborough and Martinborough have similar soil types and climates – so there is no reason why the two regions can’t have similar and complementary wines.”

When asked by db about the style of Marlborough Pinot, Greening said that “firmer tannins are a hallmark of Marlborough Pinot,” adding that the wines tend to be “more foursquare when they are young”.

It has been previously been noted in the pages of db that Marlborough lacks true Pinot Noir ambassadors to promote the combination of this grape and this region, particularly relative to other parts of New Zealand, particularly Martinborough and Otago.

For example, quoted in the August edition of db, Jim Robertson, global wine ambassador at Pernod Ricard’s Brancott Estate, said: “Otago has lots of Pinot Noir ambassadors, and Martinborough has Larry McKenna. Marlborough doesn’t have a winemaker who has been Mr Pinot. But that is changing.”

Indeed, Greening said this week that certain Marlborough producers are gaining a strong reputation for Pinot, mentioning in particular Dog Point, Greywacke and Fromm, before describing them as the “old timers, who are always interesting”.

More generally, he observed, “There are so many good winemakers in Marlborough – you have to be a good winemaker to make good Sauvignon Blanc, so the talent is there.”

Nigel Greening of Felton Road, which is located in Central Otago, a New Zealand region famous for the quality of its Pinots

Concluding on this topic, he said, “There is a lot to win, so we will see a lot of stars emerge… and every time I go to a Marlborough Pinot Noir tasting, there are not just a few stars, but lots of Pinots that really impress me.”

Writing in the March edition of the drinks business, following our 2016 Pinot Noir Masters tasting – which sees Masters of Wine judge samples blind without prejudice as to country or region of origin – it was noted that Otago came out with some of the best scores of the competition, but so too did Marlborough, particularly at sub £20 price points.

Commenting then, it was said that as producers in Marlborough develop new and better area for Pinot, particularly the deep clays soils of the South Valleys, the quality is rising, and rapidly.

Not only does the Southern Valleys sub-region benefit from deep clay and loam soils it also has slopes, which, far from the coast, ensure a greater diurnal temperature range – a further natural factor that favours Pinot quality.

Planting Pinot in the Southern Valleys is, however, relatively recent, beginning in 2001 following the completion of the The Southern Valleys Irrigation Scheme (SVIS), which was created specifically for agriculture in the dry area.

Also recorded in previous reporting by db is the fact that Marlborough actually has more Pinot Noir vineyards than any other region in New Zealand, with more than 2,500 hectares of the grape, 1,000ha more the second biggest place for this variety, Central Otago.

However, it is believed that as much as one-third the Pinot grown in Marlborough is used to make sparkling wine.

In terms of other places to watch in New Zealand for Pinot, Greening described Nelson as “a really overlooked wine region,” and Waipara as “the other exciting region at the moment”, and an area that is home to “niche producers who are dedicated to tiny production high end wine”, mentioning the likes of Bell Hill, Giesen, Pyramid, Pegasus Bay and Muddy Water.

A full report on the masterclass, looking at all New Zealand’s major Pinot-producing regions, will appear in the July edition of the drinks business.

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