Different types of soil & geology

Pinot Noir is grown in many and varied types of soil. So many in fact it is hard to generalise, however, some aspects are important in growing pinot noir such as –

1. Good drainage – allow for deep root development.

2. A pH which allows uptake of nutrients important for healthy growth and desease resistence.

3. A health micro-organism content.

All these facts interplay and support the growth of the vine.  They are an important but not exclusive component of what the french have termed “Terroir”. Too rich a soil and the vine will be too vigorous, too poor and it will not develop properly.  Some growers suggest that specific soils are the reason that they produce good wine or have a specific flavour profile or structure. This is almost certainly true although sometimes it is over stated. The above picture is from Martinborough and features a rock full of large marine fossils. The soils in this area area also sit on deep glacial loam and gravels.  This is an ideal medium for vines t0 develop deep roots and probably contributed minerality to the flavours in the wines. Fossils are often attributed to have a almost magical quality and are often said to be the reason for the greatness of a particular vineyard. Certainly an abundance of fossils in the underlying geology would result in a calcium rich and often well drained soil. By contrast, it is also suggested that clay soils which are often poorly drained (a negative) result in wines with good body and power.

Finally, a balanced vine is going to have the best chance of producing outstanding flavours.  Any soil that allows a balanced vine to be maintained will be suitable to grow pinot noir. This subject leads onto a broader discussion of terroir, organic, biodynamic and other  related issues will be the subject of other posts.

Seasons of a vineyard – Winter

Winter is heralded by the vines dropping their leaves, which by then have turned from green to yellow or brown. Colder night-time temperatures signal the vines that it’s time and the flow of sap slows. After the first bout of cold weather, usually in early-mid June (in Southern Hemisphere), we feel comfortable about starting to prune. The vine is dormant, the sap is not flowing as actively, and we know we won’t be damaging the vine by pruning, only removing the wood we don’t need or want. Pruning is a process that controls the size of the vine and the distribution of buds from which growth will occur in spring.

Pruning is the most labor-intensive period of our vineyard year, not counting harvest, of course. Pruning is just as important for wine quality as a careful harvest because it allows us to control the amount of fruit a vine will bear next year. This in turn affects the intensity of flavor, and the fruit’s location on the vine, which affects its exposure to sun, light and air and therefore how well it will ripen. Electronic pruners have helped make the pruning process quicker but there is still the task of ‘pulling out’ or removing the cut off shoots.

A strategy is developed for the vineyard and this dictates how the pruning will be approached. The main decision making process involves deciding on type of pruning and the number of buds to be left on the pruned vine. In deciding how many fruit-bearing buds to leave, we treat each vine as an individual, balancing the crop load to the vine’s age, size and vigour. For every bud left on a spur or cane (previous year’s growth) during pruning, there will likely be 1-2 fruitful shoots with 2-3 clusters of grapes per shoot. If shoots push out from other parts of the vine, they will be removed during bud rubbing, de-suckering and later shoot thinning.

Flavour profile of pinot noir

PinotWhat is a typical pinot noir taste like? There is no definitive answer to this question, there is a wide variation in pinot noirs depending on the region, terroir, clones, yields and seasonal conditions. Also important in determining how the pinot noir will taste is the winemaking approach, especially the degree to which the flavours are extracted and handled during the wine making processes. 

Some typical Pinot Noir varietal aromas and flavour descriptors are listed as follows:

Fruit: strawberry, dark berry fruits – cherry, raspberry, plum, rhubarb, tomato

Terroir: fungus, mushroom, earth, barnyard, truffle, leather, meat, bacon, forest undergrowth, mineral 

rhubarb, beet, oregano, green tea, olive

Floral: rose, violets, dried flowers

Oak: vanilla, creme brulee, butterscotch, coconut, smoke, tar, toast

Spice: chinese 5 spice, star annise, rosemary, cinnamon, caraway, thyme, peppermint

Pinot noir is a very complex grape and so can be the resultant wines. It is a real skill for the vigneron to understand the vineyard terroir and most appropriate winemaking in order to produce great or even good pinot noir. 

Louis Jadot 2001 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques

MBF shared this one from his vast cellar: and what a beauty! Elegant but with power with lifted aromas of  red berry fruit intermingling with earth and forest floor notes.  The palate mirrors the nose with abundant dark cherries and is silky smooth with a seamless long, long finish. A perfectly balanced wine of elegance to linger over. It has aged graciously in perfect cellaring conditions.

Clos Saint-Jacques is a Premier Cru vineyard of the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation in the Cote de Nuits sub-region of Burgundy . Wines made exclusively from grapes grown in the Clos Saint-Jacques vineyard and hence the title Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru.  The Clos Saint-Jacques vineyard of 17-acre is located in the center of the slope, is considered to be one of the finest premiers crus of Gevrey-Chambertin. Domaine Louis Jadot is the winemaker and owner of 2.47 acres of this vineyard.

2004 Wedgetail Estate Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley)

Wedgetail Estate comprises around 14 acres of vines on steep slopes in Cottles Bridge, towards the western end of the Yarra Valley wine growing region (Victoria, Australia). Previously a photographer, Guy Lamothe began planting vines in 1994 while embarking on his wine science degree and gaining practical experience in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Meursault in France.

The Pinot Noir is planted on an easterly-facing slope. The crop yield in 2004 was around 2.5 tonnes per acre. This wine was created using the traditional method of open vat fermenters including 5% whole bunches. Wild yeast fermentation was used and the wine remained on skins for one week after fermentation. The wine was matured for 12 months in French oak barrels of which 25% were new.

This is a powerful yet wonderfully seductive wine, with an aromatic and vibrant nose of spices, black cherries and plum. The palate is juicy and meaty with an elegant finish. A typical Yarra Valley flavour profile with the tannins needing time when first tasted in 2009 but after a few years they had soften and became quite silky, very good length. This is an outstanding example of Yarra Valley pinot noir.



NZ wine tasting

NZ Pinot Noir 2012

New Zealand has a fantastic range of pinot noir wines from regions on both the north and south islands. The following wines were tasted in February, 2010 and represent some of the best pinots that NZ has to offer:

Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2007 – 98 points.

Youthful but beautifully structured, velvet tannins, long persistent flavors. From a 1-hectare plot of vines on a limestone slope at Waikari, inland from Waipara, in North Canterbury, this is an outstanding Pinot Noir. Deeply coloured, with sweet cherry, plum and spice flavours, complex but needs time to develop. Words like powerful yet harmonious and graceful spring to mind. My top NZ wine!

Hans Herzog Pinot Noir ‘Grand Duc’ 2007 – 97 points.

This is Hans’ reserve wine from his meticulously maintained Marlborough vineyard – a vineyard selection of the best block of that particular vintage. Richly coloured in the glass with inviting aromas of ripe blackberry, raspberry and cherry. The palate is full-bodied with a luscious, velvety texture, ripe dark cherry fruit aromas with undertones of cigar smoke and well-balanced acidity. Intense, elegant and complex. 14.8% alcohol didn’t appear hot in the cool of NZ but may be a problem in some circumstances!

Schubert 2008 Pinot Noir “Block B ” – 96 points

Tight, multilayered nose showing sweet red and black berry fruits with some chocolaty spicy aromas from the oak. In the mouth it has quite a density of elegant ripe cherry and berry fruit with citrusy spice, hints of coffee and showing very nice minerality. Good concentration and some silky-yet-firm structure of smooth but present tannins. Age worthy. 14+% alcohol.

Akarua Cadence Pinot Noir 2007 96 points

One of my favorite, lesser-known Central Otago wines. 2007 Cadence is a barrel selected reserve showing complex notes of plum, dark berries and spice. The palate is rich with layers of dark berry fruits supported by good tanins, integrated oak and a long finish with touch of spice. 95 Points Gourmet Traveller WINE, 5 Stars, Winestate.

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 – 96 points.

A “grand cru” Pinot Noir from Martinborough. The 2008 was a better-yielding vintage for Martinborough producers compared to 2007 but the fruit quality was excellent. Awarded 97/100 from Nick Stock in his Penguin Buyers’ Guide. Consistently outstanding producer.

Muddy Water Hare’s Breath Pinot Noir 2007 – 96 points Deep mahogany colour, lifted nose of dark fruits with a touch of smokiness. Silky tannins with a little grip on the finish. Length was excellent. Tasted blind during the International tasting at Pinot Noir NZ 2010. Described by Oz Clark as follows: “reminds me of cassoulet and cuddles in front of a log fire”. “Not joyous but good, definitely a wine of its place”.

Bald Hills Single Vineyard Central Otago 2007 – 95 points

The 2007 Bald Hills displays deep colour and good clarity with black cherry aromas, and is layered with very bright red fruit flavors. It has good intensity, length and texture with a finish of star anise spice.

Mt Difficulty Single Vineyard Long Gully Pinot Noir 2007 – 95 points

This single vineyard produces the most concentrated of the Mt. Difficulty wines and was cropped at less than 0.8 tonne/acre. Only 380 cases are produced – the single vineyards are not made every year. Unfined / unfiltered. Medium ruby with purple tints. Floral aromas give way to red cherry and raspberry, with spice and thyme. Fine grained tannins. Concentrated flavours yet still elegant. Long finish with a bit of spice and wild herbs.

Julicher Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2007 – 95 points.

Wonderful depth of flavours as a result of a low-yielding vintage, Earthiness and smooth tannins. The 2008 has won a Trophy (Pinot Noir) and Wine of the Show at the Air NZ Wine Awards!!! Limited stocks – one only left in Martinborough Wine Centre when we visited there!

Craiggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir 2007 – 94 points

Medium clarity, unfiltered/cloudy. Highly perfumed, lifted, maybe a touch volatile, soft sweet fruit with touches of burgundian flavors – mushrooms and wild herbs. Fine tannins and good structure.

Te Hera Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 – 94 points

***GREAT VALUE. A truly exciting very small Martinborough producer that is handcrafted with passion. Lovely dark cherry and berry fruit, some floral notes supported by subtle smoky oak and a hint of spice. The 2007 Pinot and barrel samples of 2008 are also very good and show consistency from this small producer. Under-priced!

Schubert 2008 Pinot Noir “Marion’s Vineyard” – 94 points

**VALUE. Strikingly ripe and sweet aromas of red berries, this ruby coloured medium bodied wine has a lovely cherry filled palate fine tannins and acidity maintaining the wine’s elegance. Long finish with some spice and good structure. Drinking beautifully now and will improve. Highly recommended,

Vynfields Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 – 94 points.

**VALUE. Perfume, elegant fruit flavours, and soft ripe tannins are all hallmarks of this outstanding Pinot Noir. Another small family Martinborough producer that is totally organic and made with passion and enthusiasm.

Mountford Estate Pinot Noir 2008 – 94 points.

Highly aromatic, lifted almost estery with violet notes. Feminine palate of this wine from Waipara is quite a contrast from the Martinborough and Central

Otago wines. Palate of sweet uncomplicated fruit but will develop. Has charm.

Julicher Estate ’99 Rows’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 – 93 points ***GREAT VALUE. The second label of its premium Julicher Estate label, this is approachable in its youth with clean fruit and soft tannins. Elite Gold at Air NZ Wine Awards!

Pyramid Valley Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 – 93 points.

Very sweet fruit, nice burgundian background, soft fine finish with a little grip. Will develop nicely and expect the fruit to integrate and develop more savoury palate. Has potential.

Kusuda Pinot Noir 2008 92 points.

Meticulously maintained vineyard in the heart of Martinborough: the fruit is harvested and sorted with great care. Made by Hiro Kusuda, a Japanese ex lawyer and diplomat. The wine has a lifted nose, red berry and raspberry fruit with some grip. A little unbalanced with prominent high acidity which, at this stage, somewhat marred the experience. Needs time.

Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 – 92 points.

Perfume, light to medium weight, elegant fruit flavours, and soft ripe tannins make this a very nice Pinot Noir.

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2008 – 92 points.

Palate shows the fruit purity with good depth and spice. The 2008 growing season was long with above average temperatures providing the perfect conditions for Central Otago Pinot Noir. The fruit is sourced from the Cromwell basin and Gibbston sub regions. Already won a Gold at the Sydney Top 100.

Amisfield Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 – 91 points.

Expensive but a nice pinot although slightly disappointing compared to my previous encounters with earlier vintages and barrel tastings in 2004.

Note – the above scores are my own rating.

Notes from NZ Pinot Noir 2010 and subsequent visit to Martinborough. 1-9 February, 2010

Burgundy Cote d’Or

Our visit continues at a fantastic pace; visiting vineyards, wineries and tasting a large range of wines. Incredible. We have even visited DRC and met the winemaker, Bernard Noblet. For the unintiated that is Domaine Romanee Conti – who make some of the most expensive wines and possibly the best in the world. We have only had one day off during this period. On Sunday we had a 3 and half hour lunch at Lameloise. This is one of the top restuarants in France with 2 Michelin stars (formerly 3). It was a new and memorable experience for us. It was a set menu with 3 courses on the menu. However they deliver much more than the 3 courses we chose and we lost count at 8 dishes including a pre and post desert! not including the chocolates. (Thanks Gordon for the recommendations)

On our last day we had a long lunch which included a tasting of 14 wines from Olivier Leflaive, one of the best producers based in Puligny-Montrachet. It was simple traditional food but the wines included a Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2000 which was sensational. There were some local winemakes at lunch and we had a chance to taste an intensely flavoured 2003 1st Cru Pommard from Jacques Prieur. Lunch finished at 4.00pm and we retired for coffee at The Montrachet hotel where we met some Australians who were on a similar mission. We had one last rendezvous at 6.15 before we could go home. To be honest we were tired and hoped it would be a short visit. That’s not quite how it turned out….we meet Frederic from Traransaud (one of our barrel markers) and he took us to visit winemaker, Jean-Claude Ramonit, in Chassagne-Montrachet. We started with some nice Saint-Aubin and Mersault village wines but we soon moved on to a range of Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachets of various vintages before trying a number of wonderful Grand-Crus. The absolute standout for me and the best white wine I have ever tasted was a 1990 Bienviues-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru (Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonit). We then moved on to 3 very respectable Pinots. At the end of the visit we had tried 13 different bottles, most of which were opened especially for us. Dispite the fact that Jean-Claude did not speak english, we got on very well… the language of wine is universal. Pommard