Day 2 Pinot Noir NZ 2013 – Pioneers


Kai & Marion Schubert

Kai & Marion Schubert

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

Day 1 Pinot Noir NZ 2013


Close Henri

Day 1 of Pinot Noir NZ 2013. The key note speakers have challenged and entertain and now we start exploring the key Pinot Noir producing regions in depth. To be honest I wasn’t too excited by where I had been assigned to start my journey of exploration but here goes…

Marlborough wines have been a real surprise for me. This my 3rd Pinot Noir NZ event and I can only recall one or two Marlborough wine that rated in my top wines. The others were definitely not memorable! This time, however, I found a lot to like and the progress was exponential. This is, of course, the area of NZ famous for Sauvignon Blanc and there are many producers here who are household names around the world. Perhaps not the usual location to find producers passionate about a variety such as Pinot!

The region boasts 24,000 ha of wine grape producing vineyards, only a fraction of which is planted to Pinot Noir yet already Pinot Noir from Malborough represents 46% of NZ production – the largest area. A fact that surprised me.

Site selection has become much more considered and so has clone choices. Have said that, it is clear there is no real consensus yet on identifying optimal terroirs. The three sub-regions all have new plantings and it will be some time before these subregions become more clearly understood.

Climate is main influence in Marlborough wines – moderate temperatures because of proximity to water, ie Maritime influence and protection from potentially extreme weather from the west due to mountain ranges. This rain shadow produces dry wind and low humidity making Malborough highly suitable for organic growing. 1500 ha of organic vineyards have been established already. The other natural advantage the region has is Lux quality of light and the have it in abundance – 2500 light hours of pure bright light! The vines love it but the vineyard workers need lots of sun protection.

Reticulation of water enabled dry sites here to be developed in the Southern slopes.

The pinot noirs produced here are now showing good primary cherry fruit flavours, smooth often plush tannins and good acid. Many different styles are developing from fruit driven to more floral to powerful tannic wines. Sites with underlying shingles and silt are often perfumed. Clays sites have “shoulders” i.e. more body and tannins. There is a palate of flavours here.

Malborough pinot noir often offer good value as the region is developing its reputation and often Pinot production is a side line to larger scale Sauvignon Blanc production.

The wines that I particularly liked were (all 2010 vintage):

Clos Henri
Cloudy Ba
Foxes Island
Hans Herzog
Jules Taylor
Nobility Icon
Spy Valley




Vynfields 2008 Pinot Noir (Martinborough, NZ)

Vynfields pinot noir 2008

I few years ago during a visit to Martinborough, I missed the opportunity to have lunch at Vynfield vineyard but my wonderful wife managed to make it and kindly brought me back a bottle of their pinot (what else) with glowing reports. It has been resting in my cellar until now and I am privileged to share my tasting notes as this is a superb wine.

colour – super intense, blood red.
nose – intoxicating (not in the literal sense!), lifted, notes of charcuterie, violets, fresh berries on nose.
palate – vibrant mixed red berries, blueberry, chocolate, cloves with some earthy characters.
The texture of this wine is layered with a very, very fine chalky texture provided presence but still etherial month feel. The experience is very long, mouth filling and lingering: almost indefinite with a lick of liquorice and spices at the end. 
The Vynfield pinot noir is a very special, almost etherial wine – one that evokes poetry and reminds me why pinot is so special. A holistic experience, not often found outside of burgundy, where all the senses are completely engaged and entranced.  
Vynfields is a boutique organic/biodynamic vineyard in Martinborough, owned by John Bell and Kaye McAulay who are very passionate about producing Pinot Noir using traditional methods. According to their website, they are under conversion to organic viticulture certified by Bio-Gro New Zealand. Sprays and fertilizers used include, seaweed extracts, fish meal, sodium silicate, calcium and the Bio-Dynamic preparations.  There wines are made by outstanding winemakers Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling ( and their deft hand can certainly be seen in this wine.


Roaring Meg pinot noir 2010 (Central Otago)

Roaring Meg
A beautifully balanced and remarkably long wine for a ‘second’ label. This wine is made by Mt. Difficulty from grapes grown in contracted Cromwell Basin vineyards and managed by their own team of viticulturists. I was not expecting the same power, complexity and breeding as the ‘real thing’ but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a wonderful pinot noir for the price. Yes, I know ‘value’ is subjective but I suspect most wine drinkers would find this wine very good value!
The first impressions are not what it looks like in the glass but the perfumed fragrance that jumps out of the bottle when the stelvin is removed. A bit like a genie out of the bottle! Aromas of blackberry and cherry fruits, cinnamon and summer flowers fill the air. The appearance in the glass is a perfect ruby red with great clarity.

 The wine has an abundance of fine cherry and dark berry flavours supported by fine tannins and fresh acidity. To finish the wine is long and lingers nicely on the palate. It is probably not a wine that I would put down for extended cellaring, mainly because it is drinking so well now. Enjoy with salt and pepper calamari or a tuna salad.


Jack Rabbit pinot noir 2011 (Bellarine Peninsula, Geelong, Victoria)

Jack Rabbit

In the glass the wine displays an light garnet colour with purple tints. A young pinot with striking freshness and intense fruitiness: aromatic and matching flavours of macerated strawberries, raspberry or even citrus. There is a touch of earth on nose but overall the fruit is super dominant.
The wine is focused, possibly a little single dimensioned but very skilfully made.  The palate is chiselled with sharp acid and a sour fruit finish that works well with richer dishes. Sappy tannins and slightly toasty, spicy oak is evident but not dominate on the finish.  The Jack Rabbit label states that the wine is a miraculous 12% alcohol. Clearly the grapes were picked quite early given the fruit profile but this is still a very low alcohol for the region even if the season was not subjected to the extremes of other vintages. A nice wine to enjoy with a plate of homemade tortellini, wild mushrooms in a creamy sauce.

Bream Creek pinot noir 2006

Sometime a pinot noir is all about the sum of the parts! Not a particularly brilliant nose, palate or finish. Such is the 2006 Bream Creek. Yes, the nose could be more lifted, the palate have some more complexity. Nether the less this wine is immensely satisfying and a beautiful accompaniment to food.

The 2006 Bream Creek has perfect balance, luscious mouth feel and power.   The appearance in the glass is an impressive mahogany with deep red reflections. Bouquet: Spice, cherry, ripe mixed berry fruit and cedar. Palate: Seamless, finely textured – mixed berries followed by aniseed and cedar.

Food matching: Try with game, lamb or Tasmanian Atlantic salmon. It has the power to cope with quite strongly flavoured dishes.

This wine comes from a vineyard located at Marion Bay in the south-east of Tasmania that was originally planted in 1973. It one of the oldest vineyards in Tasmania and the depth and power in this wine is a testament to the age of the vines. The purity and line of this wine also point to its terroir overlooking the beautiful and wild seascape of Marion Bay and Maria Island in South Eastern Tasmania.

Finally, I should mention that this wine is incredibly good value for money. Enjoy!


2007 Curly Flat Pinot Noir

An fine example of pinot noir expressive of the terroir and made with sensitivity and finesse. First impressions confirm, as the label clearly states, that the wine is unfiltered and unfined with a slightly cloudy, semi transparent mid red with mauve tinges. The nose displays a split personality – sometimes invoking floral and perfumed notes then the next minute animal and mineral notes are present. Love it! The palate has a nice sweet and sour counterpointing with sweet blackberry, raspberry set against sour cherry flavours. Not overly complex but satisfying flavours. Gossamer like tannins are supported with nice acid in perfect balance and line. The length is good without being outstanding but overall the wine is impressive and is a great match for either pork belly with asian spices or char grilled atlantic salmon.  I experienced this wine with dinner at the Farmers Arms hotel in Daylsford and kept some of the bottle for tasting the following evening. Unlike some wines their was a definite dumbing down having been opened for 24 hours, the nose was less interesting and the palate displayed more plummy characters. Que sera.
The next day, I visited Curly Flat and was shown around by Winery Manager, Matt Regan.  I had an opportunity to briefly review their wine making practices and to taste the 2o11 in tank. For another difficult season the wine is looking very promising – fragrant and elegant.  It is clear to me that one of the overridding characteristics of Curly Flat pinot noir is the extraordinarily fine tannins which were clearly evident in this young wine. Curly Flat has great respect for terroir and their vineyards, gentle sensitive handing of the grapes and wine and an overarching passion for pinot noir.
PS I purchase a bottle of 2011 Williams Crossing pinot noir (Curly Flats second label) and will be reviewing this shortly, however, if you have an opportunity to try this wine in the meantime you won’t be disappointed. Awesome value.

Macedon Ranges – a place for pinot noir.

There is quite a buzz around the Macedon Ranges region being the premier wine growing region in Australia for pinot noir. Two first class producers are really responsible for this reputation – Curly Flat and Bindi. There are a number of other small producers but none come close to reaching the stature or consistently produce wines of the quality of the Curly Flat or Bindi.

Driving around the Macedon Ranges recently I was struck by the variation in landscape. The region comprises part of the Great Dividing Range and Central Victorian Highlands. The Great Dividing Range dividing the region into two parts and hence contributing to the diversity. The geology and soils are often characterised as volcanic but this is only part of the story as the volcanics sit on underlying ancient slates which form part of the gold bearing Victorian slate belt consisting of black slates, mudstones, siltstones and quartzite. The diverse geology and landscape mean that the area is by no means consistent in its ability to grow quality pinot noir. The region does, however, have a major natural asset in its climate. The area is “Cool Climate” with cool winters and temperature summations during the growing season varying from 1150 to 1300 degree days. This means it is classified as Region 1 on the ‘Amerine-Winkler’ climatic classification index and, therefore, ideal for the growing of pinot noir.  This index is explained simply in an article by Sally Easton MW ( The region is also relatively dry which lends itself to low disease pressure and opportunity of organic and biodynamic production.

While not wanting to take away from the terroir of either Bindi or Curly Flat, I think that the investment they have made in viticulture and gentle wine making have been instrumental in producing outstanding wine. My next post will look closer at Curly Flat and some of their fine pinots.

Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago, NZ)

Wooing Tree wooed me! I fell in love with this outstanding Central Otago pinot.

Perfect ruby colour with vivid red reflections and fine clarity. Lifted complex aromas of violets, dark berries, cinnamon, wild thyme, smoked cheese and mushrooms. The palate displays dark berry fruits, plum and morello cherry together with a touch of quality oak, earth and aniseed. A rich but balanced wine.  While the alcohol level is high it is not obvious at this stage of the wine’s development. The wine has fine tannins and a touch of stalks showing through, I suspect, as a result of use of a small percentage of whole bunches in the wine making. This adds interest and structure. Good length and persistence enhance the tasting experience and ability of the wine to work beautifully with food.

This is a very fine wine and I highly recommend it. It should last many years under ideal cellaring conditions but it is drinking so well now, why wait!

Pinot Palooza continued.

Pinot Palooza was a bonanza for pinot lovers in Melbourne last weekend – an opportunity to meet wine makers and taste some of Australia and NZ’s best pinot noirs.  My only problem was with the number of people attending and the limited time I had to sample the wines on offer.  This is not a criticism of the organizers, as clearly they needed this level of exposure to justify the expense in staging such an ambitious event.  In fact I need to congratulate the organisers on managing to get such a great group of producers together. Well done, Dan Sims and Ben Edwards from The Wine Guide.

I took the opportunity to catch-up with old acquaintances, colleagues & friends including George Mihaly, Lindsay McCall, Clive Paton, Larry McKenna and many others. I also had the opportunity to experience some great pinots and make some new contacts.  I intend adding some reviews of the pinots I tried here in future posts.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Mary Zurakowski (picture above) and sampling her Archangel pinot noir from the Upper Clutha Valley of Central Otago, NZ. I also loved the story behind the Archangel name, which is a true story of “hope, love and survival. Destiny at work”. It began in1940 when two young girls, Stefania and Halina paths crossed in difficult circumstances. They had been forced from their homes in war-torn Poland and found themselves in a labour camp in Arkhangel’sk, Siberia. (Arkhangle’sk translates as Archangel in English). Here they began a courageous journey that takes them across many continents, where they encounter similar experiences as refugees. Sometime later they meet up serving in the Air Force Auxiliary during the Second World War and became life long friends bonded in common experiences. Anyway to cut a long but fascinating story to an end, Mary and her husband, Ian are descendants of the two young girls and the two Polish pilots they meet during the war.  You can read the full story on their website  By the way, their wines are as interesting as their story.  I hope to review them in depth in a subsequent post. In the meantime thank you, Mary, for sharing such a beautiful and interesting story.