Zealand and Oregon Pinot Noir-
Similarities, Shared Ideals, A Report from NZ
by Avalon's New Zealand Correspondent, Sue
What is it about Pinot
Noir that evokes such emotion and brings together producers and disciples
from many points on the globe to worship their passion at events like
Oregon' s International Pinot Noir Celebration and New Zealand's Pinot
Robinson MW gives one answer. "I think the reason pinot engenders
conferences and passion is because it is so much the underdog to cabernet.
There needs to be a fuss made of it", she says.
Keynote speaker Jancis Robinson MW, undoubtedly the world's most respected
wine commentator, compared Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon then told
us what was she thought was so great about Pinot Noir :
==== she likes it because it can be enjoyed young or old;
==== she loves that the wines it produces are so varied;
==== she loves that it is such a transparent medium to communicate sense
of place with;
==== she finds that its structure is not sheer mass and power and volume
but, in some examples, is elegant, charming and delicate;
==== she says it is the sort of wine that dances on the palate rather
than marching across it;
==== it is a wine that seizes your heart before it hits your head;
==== and it is just so easy to love.
"New Zealand has a great future for Pinot Noir", she said. "It
is a very difficult to grow right and the places where it will thrive
and make good wine are so limited. The world is awash with Cabernet and
Cabernet Merlots and so many countries can produce a decent one, whereas
so few countries can produce a decent Pinot Noir, so I am sure this is
very good for New Zealand".
Her global overview of the state of Pinot Noir proficiency and style around
the world set the scene for Oregon's Stephen Cary. His witty and entertaining
commentary accompanied a visual delight in a photographic journey through
the world of Pinot Noir, which took us from Burgundy to many 'new' producing
regions such as British Columbia as well as to California, Oregon and
New Zealand. I look forward to seeing his book when it is released.
A highlight was the session by Professor Warren Moran of the University
of Auckland, who spoke about "Terroir - the Human Factor".
He said that too much emphasis is put on the environment - the geology
and the climate - and we should not forget the physiological processes
and the people when we talk about terroir and the complexity of interactions
that take place.
Other lectures included Bollinger head, Ghislain de Montgolfier, talking
about the significance of Pinot Noir to Champagne, Dr Ian Hall (NZ) talking
about Truffles, Professor Don Beaven (NZ) talking about Wine and Civilisation
while Bob Campbell MW (NZ) gave his view of Wine and the Internet. In
addition, Robert Drouhin and David Graves hosted a winemakers' forum.
The great exhibition of Pinot Noir held in the Town Hall, with sessions
open to the public, had 64 of the New Zealand's producers pouring their
pinots in a well thought out set-up with wines displayed in alphabetical
order of producer name by region.
The formal wine tastings for the delegates and guests were masterfully
organised into two venues, one for about 320 tasters in the Michael Fowler
Centre and the other in a smaller room in the Town Hall.
The International Tasting, chaired by New Zealand Master of
Wine, Bob Campbell had panellists James Halliday (Aus), Harvey
Steiman (USA), Damien Martin (NZ) and Robert Drouhin (Fr)
representing the countries of the featured wines, which were:
==== Martinborough Vineyard Reserve 1998
-------------------- (Martinborough, New
==== Knappstein Lenswood 1999 (South Australia, Australia)
==== Bannockburn 1997 (Victoria, Australia)
==== Adelsheim Bryans Creek 1998 (Oregon, USA)
==== Saintsbury California 1999 (California, USA)
==== Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander 1998 (California, USA)
==== Domain de la Vougarei Cote de Beaune 1999
==== Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 1991
It was a lively session with good and sometimes hilarious comments from
the panellists and representatives of each wine who were called on to
speak. With so many glasses to prepare for the seated tastings, the wines
had to be poured well in advance.
Despite sitting in
the glass for perhaps up to 3 or 4 hours, all the wines showed well to
me, which further endorsed the quality of these wines. But while an interesting
international tasting, it was perhaps a little disappointing that there
was no Grand Cru Burgundy or a representative from the Russian River Valley,
an area that had been highly spoken of in the preceding lectures. I would
have like to have seen more than one Oregon wine too.
New Zealand Tasting gave the opportunity to taste the country's regions
side by side. From north to south, the selected wines were:
==== Kumeu River 1999 - Auckland
==== Vidal Estate 1998 - Hawkes Bay
==== Dry River Amaranth 1999 - Martinborough
==== Seresin 1999 - Marlborough
==== Neudorf Moutere Reserve 1999 - Nelson
==== Pegasus Bay Prima Donna 1999 - Canterbury
==== Felton Road Block 3 1999 - Otago
Each wine was presented by its wine-maker, who spoke about their region's
history of pinot noir as well as their geology and climate. The exercise
was not to pick favourites, however one can not help doing so.
I gave gold medal
ratings to all the wines from Martinborough south and chose as my star
wine the Dry River by a cat's whisker from the Felton
The overseas delegates I spoke to, especially the Americans, were very
impressed and surprised at the bright fruit flavours of our pinots.
Forrest Tancer, of California's Iron Horse Vineyards, said "I
find the wines to be to my liking which means they really tend to emphasis
the flavour of the grape varieties and I find them to be very bright,
very delicious to drink which seems to be what we are supposed to be making
Lacroute of Oregon's Willakenzie Vineyard found the wines somewhat
different to those from Oregon and California. "It reflects the fact
we have different climatic conditions, different soils and possibly different
viticultural practices", he said. "They are Pinot Noir, there
is no question about that, but the styles and the way they come across
is somewhat different".
Oregonian Ronni Lacroute thought that Pinot Noir 2001 was a great
opportunity for the international delegates to appreciate what is happening
in New Zealand, to see the industry in its pioneering days, taking off
and becoming world class. "It is very exciting and gives energy to
everybody who is in Pinot Noir production because we now have another
colleague to assist in marketing Pinot Noir."
Robert Drouhin said there were two good things about New Zealand
Pinot Noir. "They were not too oaky and they were generally true
to what we think is the Pinot Noir type", he said.
I asked Jancis Robinson if was possible to compare Oregon pinot
noir to New Zealand Pinot Noir.
"I think you can", she said. "There are a lot of comparisons
between Oregon and New Zealand not least because both of you have this
domineering neighbour with more sunshine and a lot more confidence. Also
I think, with a few notable exceptions, the NZ wine industry seems to
the preserve of driven individuals, just like Oregon. I think there is
also the fact that until very very recently there hadn't been many Burgundian,
Dijon clones in either Oregon or New Zealand, so the flavours had tended
to be sweeter and fruitier. And you are both passionate about Pinot Noir.
I suppose you could argue that Pinot Noir is even more important to Oregon
than it is to New Zealand because Oregon doesn't have a sauvignon blanc
or even a major chardonnay business, but in terms of red wine I think
you are both equally devoted to Pinot."
Should the New World producers be trying to make wines that taste like
Burgundy or should we be trying to make great pinot noir, I asked. "I
think that the winemakers should have a full knowledge what great Burgundy
is", she replied. "That is a prerequisite to making great pinot
noir and if then knowingly you establish a different and absolutely delicious
style then that's justifiable."
In between the formal lectures and the wine tastings were plenty of opportunities
to sip on fine wines and feast on delicious cuisine at the morning and
afternoon teas, lunches and dinners.
The first lavish feast was the Mayors Village Lunch under a giant marquee
erected in Wellington's Civic Square, adjacent to the Conference venues.
Delegates dined on fresh Mediterranean-style food accompanied by a selection
of New Zealand rieslings, sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and of course,
That evening, under another giant marquee, was the 'Cordon Blair'. Blair
Street, in the middle of Wellington's restaurant district was cordoned
off for the delegates and guests to sip on white wines and pinot noir
in a casual setting to the accompaniment of various bands while enjoying
food served from stalls by thirteen of Wellington's finest restaurants.
The following day lunch was provided in a brown paper bag, giving delegates
to opportunity to walk around the revitalised and attractive wharf area
or to just sit in the sun and enjoy an alcohol-free lunch with delicious
The premier cuisine event was the Dinner with the Arts, which started
in the ballroom of the classy Duxton Hotel then progressed to the Civic
Square Marquee and City Art Gallery for dessert. Four of New Zealand's
top chefs, Peter Thornley, Alistair Brown, Tony Smith and Peter Gordon
excelled with their delicious offerings matched to first class examples
of New Zealand Pinot Gris and New Zealand and International Pinot Noir.
A highlight of the dinner was the auction of a very unique wine - the
New Zealand Reserve Vintage 2000 Pinot Noir, a blend of Pinot Noir from
all the producers attending the Conference. Just two a half barrels were
made. With vigorous bidding spurred on by auctioneer Jim Clendenen from
California's Au Bon Climat Vineyards, the most fortunate buyers were those
who were able to secure a 6-pack for NZ$350, just NZ$58 a bottle. The
dozen-packs in their beautiful wooden boxes were not such a bargain while
the magnums sold for $450 a piece and the jeroboams, put up as individual
lots, fetched between NZ$900 and NZ$1500 each.
The formal closing session was an overview of the issues raised during
the Conference. Bob Campbell MW put the questions to Jancis Robinson,
James Halliday, Harvey Steiman, Robert Drouhin and Ghislain de Montgolfier
resulting in a lively discussion between the experts. However, when asked
which region they thought rated second to Burgundy, most answers reeked
of patriotism. "Yarra" said Halliday, while Drouhin said "Champagne".
de Montgolfier said that "Champagne was No.1 and Burgundy was No.
2". Harvey Steiman answered "California". Jancis Robinson,
however gave the most diplomatic answer. "I think it is a little
of each of the regions we have been tasting", she said.
The Conference finale was a trip to Martinborough, about an hour north
of Wellington, via train to Featherston, where buses carried the delegates
to mystery destinations. As my bus left the station the itinerary was
revealed - I was going to Te Kairanga, then Martinborough Vineyards and
finally Ata Rangi for lunch. It was a fabulous day especially being at
one of the regions oldest producers for a vineyard feast and the opportunity
to try consecutive vintages of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir from 1993 through
to a barrel sample of the 2000. What a treat.
Pinot Noir 2001 was a great experience and great for the producers too,
as Blair Walter of Felton Road Wines sums up. "I think it was a tremendous
success in terms of the calibre of wine writers, trade and interested
persons attending from off-shore", he said.
Noir 2001, inspired by the IPNC, attracted 460 delegates at
NZ$1250 a ticket to consume their passion at this great promotion of New
Zealand Pinot Noir, together with an army of media from the USA, Canada,
UK, Australia, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and of course New Zealand.
55% of the delegates were from New Zealand while 21% crossed the Tasman
from Australia, 15% were from the USA, 5% were from the UK and the remainder
travelled from France, Japan, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil and
Supplied by the Wine Institute of NZ]
Held at Wellington's
Civic Centre, comprising the old Town Hall and the modern Michael Fowler
Centre, the Conference program with two full days of consumer-oriented
lectures and accompanying Cuisine Programme had something for everyone.
of Pinot Noir 2001
The Pinot producers of New Zealand have Larry McKenna of Escarpment Vineyards,
formerly of Martinborough Vineyards to thank for sowing the seed for Pinot
McKenna, one of New Zealand's foremost producers of Pinot Noir, was invited
to the inaugural IPNC in 1988 and has attended at least 5 events in McMinnville
since that time.
He floated the idea of a New Zealand celebration at the Southern Pinot
Noir Workshop in 1998 and in 1999 submissions were put forward to hold
the event. Voting by the producers attending the workshop went 24/16 in
favour of Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, as the venue.
After a few seeding meetings early in 1999, Larry McKenna approached Richard
Riddiford of Palliser Estate and a director of the Wine Institute of New
Zealand, to chair the board on Pinot Noir 2001 as it was later to be named.
The REGIONS of
New Zealand Wine Country
Pinot Noir was first recorded as being planted in New Zealand in 1883
by William Beetham at Masterton, a little north of the now well regarded
Martinborough region, although the grape may well have arrived some time
earlier with the French missionaries.
The new era of Pinot Noir began in 1962 when Frank Berrysmith, a government
viticulturist, imported clones 10/5 and Bachtobel from Switzerland. From
north to south, planting of pinot noir spread throughout the country and
now, in 2001, most producers are experimenting with Dijon clones.
==== Auckland: Corbans Wines experimented in the 1960's having
most success with a sparkling wine. Nobilo Vintners produced a well-rated
still red Pinot Noir in 1976.
==== Martinborough / Wairarapa: Pinot Noir was replanted in 1982
at Martinborough with the first commercial releases from Ata Rangi Vineyards
and Martinborough Vineyards in 1989.
==== Marlborough: Planting's commenced in 1973 by Montana Vineyards
who experimented with Pinot Noir as a base for sparkling wine.
==== Nelson: Siefried Wines planted Pinot Noir vines in 1975.
==== Canterbury: St Helena was the pioneer, producing a gold medal
winning Pinot Noir in 1982.
==== Central Otago: Romeo Bragato, New Zealand's first government
viticulturist, noted in a visit to the country in 1895 that he though
the region of Central Otago eminently suitable for the production of Pinot
Noir. It was not until a hundred years later that his prediction was realised.
Alan Brady is attributed to trialing Pinot Noir in the 1970's. The first
commercial vineyards were Brady's Gibbston Valley and Rolf Mills's Rippon
Vineyard further north in Wanaka.
The area really took
off in the 1990's and is now New Zealand's fastest growing wine region
with over 70% of its 2001 figure of 700 hectares of vines being Pinot
Note from Sue Courtney:
I write about wine
and have a website about wine because I have a passion for wine, a passion
for writing and a passion for playing around with my computer. It was
that first glass of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc that did it. It was 1988
and we had just spent a couple of months travelling around the South Island
of New Zealand. With a couple of hours to spare before having to check-in
for the ferry to the North Island - a 3 hour journey on some of the most
treacherous waters in New Zealand - a stop in Blenheim to visit the Marlborough
vineyards was hastily scheduled. We decided to visit Hunters Estate but
got lost. Lucky for us, as we found Cloudy Bay!
It was 10.00 o'clock
in the morning and I never imagined what it would be like to have the
flavours of freshly bottled sauvignon blanc explode in the mouth. Aromas
of freshly cut grass and flavours of passionfruit and gooseberry combined
with refreshing acidity. No wonder the wine was such a hit with critics
in the UK - a cult wine. We had never heard of Cloudy Bay prior to this
day. Now it is world famous, sought by thousands. Lucky me. I buy a dozen
That was the start
of my love affair with wine, an affair that I want to share.
More about Sue
her to our site and hope to offer more of her articles soon!