Today was about the regions of NZ that pioneered the development of Pinot Noir production.
Firstly, the great region of Martinborough where the story of NZ pinot noir starts. Located at latitude 40 degrees south at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island. With an average rainfall around 780mm and almost 1200 Growing Degree Days on average, it boasts excellent growing conditions for Pinot Noir. The climate is semi maritime, influenced by the ocean to the east and south. Summer temperatures are moderate with cool nights; during winter very cold nights are common. Strong north-west winds through spring are channelled through Martinborough impacting on flowering and fruit set. This has the effect of regulating crop levels and reducing vigour in the growing season. Constant battering is also believed to lead to higher tannin levels in Martinborough wines. The long growing season is ideal for pinot noir, especially allowing a long hang time for fruit to ripen slowly which build flavours and potential complexities. The elevation rises from the coast to Martinborough over 50m and the vineyards are located on deep terrace soils and gravels. The relatively small area of suitable sites and proximity to Wellington drives land costs high which in turn mean smaller boutique family owned vineyards predominate and there are only a couple of large scale ‘corporate’ owned vineyards.
Martinborough wines are typically plush, textured wines with good primary flavours and length. My favorite wines consistently come from Ata Rangi, Schubert, Escarpment, Martinborough, Vynfields, Te Hera & Kusuda. There are many good producers here and as vine age is now significant by NZ standards, the wines are not only quite consistent but also showing depth and increasing power.
The next pioneer region I explored is Nelson. Here they are all family owned vineyards and only 178ha of Pinot Noir have been planted. Nelson is located a two hour drive from Marlborough, on the northern most tip of the South Island. Mountain ranges to the west provide a very effective rain shadow and hence the region is dry with a large amount of sunshine hours (2400 hours). Soil structure tends to vary from gravels to clay rich loams over a hard clay subsoil with these soils requiring no irrigation. Low fertility of the soils results in low vigour in the vines.
As a result of its specific climate and soils, Nelson’s wines are typically well structured wines with good flavour profiles. Neudorf and Seifried are two well established wineries in Nelson but there are a number of new comers who are starting to produce nice pinots from relatively young vines.
The final pioneer region is Waipara/North Canterbury. These are real pioneers being really isolated from the main wine growing areas. The Waipara Valley is situated only 40 minutes drive from Christchurch, on the eastern side of the South Island. It is a fast growing wine region with around 80 vineyards in the Waipara valley covering more than 1,200 hectares of plantings. The Waipara Valley is protected by the Teviotdale hills which moderate cool easterly winds. However winds from the north west warm the valley and reduce frost risk. Waipara has the highest summer temperatures and the lowest rainfall of any of the New Zealand wine regions. The soil types vary from gravely deposits on flats and terraces in the central and west of the valley, limestone derived clays on hillsides and valley floor to the eastern side and gravely loams over alluvial subsoil in the southern part of the region. The north facing moderately sloping terrain provides an ideal sites for vines. A good example of a site on limestone is Bell Hill which is located on a disused limestone quarry and blue, iron-rich soils.
Waipara region is fast developing a reputation for the production of top quality Pinot noir with characteristic red fruit characters and fresh acidity. Pegasus Bay is one of the Waipara vineyards with an established and well deserved reputation. The region also boosted two further producers who are fast establishing reputations for consistent top quality pinot noir: Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley. Relatively new names pushing to join this group are Bellbird Spring and Black Estate. This group of 5 provides a clear endorsement for the region and heralds exciting times ahead.
Following are a few brief notes of a small selection from the regional tasting:
Pallister Estate Pinot Noir 2010 (Martinborough)
- Not particularly bright in the glass
- Nice lifted nose – cherry and hints of cinnamon
- Delicate palate but good length
- Dark cherry flavours pre-dominate
- Palate could do with more complexity but may develop
Schubert Block B Pinot Noir 2010 (Martinborough)
- Deep mahogany with perfect clarity
- Red fruit nose & palate – red berry/cherry
- Great depth of flavour and good structure with fine grained tannins
- Fleshy, Nice length & persistence
- Will age well at least 10 years
- Another beautiful pinot noir from Kai & Marion Schubert
Kiritea from Te Hera Pinot Noir 2010 (Martinborough)
- Lovely deep mahogany
- Lifted floral red fruit nose – red currants/cherry
- Sweet fruit dominate on the palate at this stage
- Gentle tannin & acid – easy wine but satisfying length
- Incredibly good value (this is the second label from Te Hera)
- Match lighter dishes
Bellbird Spring River Terrace Pinot Noir 2010 (Waipara)
- Dark brooding, purple tinge at edges, cloudy
- Complex beetroot, cherry, mineral nose
- Cherry dominate flavor
- Structure and length adequate
- A producer to watch.
Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2010 (Waipara)
- Brilliant color fruit and texture like a cut gem
- Ultra clean and sharply defined.
- Perhaps a little too clean
- Somewhat disappointing compared to previous vintages (this was my top wine at the last event) but still a very nice pinot
Pyramid valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2010 (Waipara)
- Proudly unfiltered, unfined (declared on the label)
- Lacks clarity in the glass (in common with some unfiltered wines)
- Nuanced wine with immediate interest in the aromas and flavours
- Smoke, animal, charcuterie, moss on the nose
- Rounded, voluptuous in the mouth
- Earth and mineral, not quite funky but with real palate interest
- Nice tannins some drying on the finish but will help hold and allow development
- Very good length