Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration – more on Day 2 and a note for readers

I am going to be bouncing around a bit for the next few posts. Which means I will be jumping back to Day 1 at some point, but trust me, that will not matter.

What some may not realise is that much of this blog up until this point has been written on an iPhone, not a computer. This makes it very tough to write up large tastings and give them space (also means that Auto correct invariably created typos – thank you Apple!) Over the next week however due to some changes at home and some holidays, I will be able to devote more time to the blog and hopefully you will see some enhancements.

The morning of Day 2 included a fascinating walk around tasting made up of all 34 participating wineries. Each was allowed to show two Pinots Noir – a couple of producers snuck in a third (you know who you are!) By and large the wines were solid across the board. One of my criticisms of Otago Pinot in the past is that there have been major inconsistencies, four or five top producers, a bunch of OK ones in the middle and some wines that seem to lack finess. After this tasting however, I can say that there are fewer of the latter and that as far as top producers go there are now perhaps ten or twelve really top end producers of this variety, maybe more.

Note that not all of Central was represented here. There was at least one of my favourite producers who was not here this year. Whether that be for cost or lack of available wine who knows.

The other criticism that I have had in the past is that many wines tasted the same (often hailing from central wine processing plants) and that levels of extraction outweighed both the amount and the tone of the fruit coming out of the vineyard. Again there have been massive improvements in this area. We are seeing the vineyard clearer now. And the other wonderful thing about this tasting was that some wineries chose to show some of their cool experimental wines, but more on that later.

The organisers did a great job here. A nice large, cool cellar hall, roomy enough (though some people did hang around by the stalls, making it hard to taste efficiently) but there was just enough time to get around all the stalls.

Except I got waylaid by the nibbles…

Also a fantastic morning tea – the Paua frittata was amazing, as were the Pinot Rose Lavender Lamingtons (do we need the recipe???) And outside they had arranged a coffee caravan, with two hip young dudes pulling Allpress. I had brought my Keep Cup down from Auckland – but left it back at the motel this day.

I don’t normally do this – but I had three long blacks.

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration – Day 2 continued

After an outstanding walk around tasting at Amisfield winery, and an even more outstanding morning tea, we were all split up to go to different wineries.

I think I lucked in – always wanted to see the cave at Gibbston Valley, and sure enough that is where we ended up.

Absolute scorcher outside, inside it was fabulous, cool and ethereal. And we entered loaded up. Flutes of méthode, with either freshly shucked oysters or little slabs of terrine/rillettes.

Chris, the winemaker at Gibbston Valley gave a beautiful welcome speech and this was followed with a karakia, by way of some waiata.

Chris’s wife was trained in opera singing, but she started with a traditional folk song from her country of birth, but followed up with the famous Puccini aria, “O mio babbino caro”, from Gianni Schicchi.

Absolutely amazing.

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration – Day 2

There were officially meant to be 68 wines. But there were actually 73 wines in the room. Some of the wines ran out… And Unfortunately I didn’t get to five wineries, so I got to taste and write notes on some 60 wines, which was a pretty good effort IMHO.

There were lots of highlights during this tasting, not least were the two talented baristas in a caravan out front. But more on this over coming days.

For first impressions, I thought that I would focus on the three NON Otago wines in the room.

So lucky to have two superstars from Oregon represented.

Elk Cove Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Willamette Valley

This is still a juicy, fruity wine, dark cherry, plum, but also showing some meaty, savoury development. Very pretty wine, more elegant than some, the elegant end of the Willamette spectrum, but with Lovely svelte, supple tannins. Impressive.

The next two fascinating wines exhibit the diversity within a very small distance in one Oregon sub region (two miles apart, I think?)

Rex Hill Jacob-Heart Estate Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015

An old cliché but a goodie “Iron first in velvet glove”, this is a brooding, muscular Pinot, saturated berry fruit, full, generous, but also incredibly youthful.

Rex Hill Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014

What a seductive nose, warm, inviting, complex, I detected still some oak integrating, but a lovely generosity on the palate, finer structured than the previous wine, but still very, very impressive. A “wine critic’s wine”, but hey I am a wine critic, I LOVE THIS!!!

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Central Otago Pinot Celebration

Today I arrived in Queenstown – this is the very first time that I have been invited to the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration and I really have Paul Pujol, from Prophet’s Rock, to thank for that.

The event started with a sit down tasting at the Millenium Hotel, with a walk around tasting at the Hilton. More on these tastings to come,

The event was officially opened by Paul – with a beautiful speech – well done Paul.

But earlier in the day we had a Fine Wines of New Zealand tasting with Air New Zealand. Unfortunately Fine Wines of New Zealand has a number of problems, not least of which is the suggestion that NZ based MWs unanimously support this venture. I for one don’t – this is a commercial venture and there are significant problems with it, including some of the wines today being out of condition.

More to come.

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What’s on the table? Bell Hill Old Weka Pass Chardonnay 2014

Bell Hill Old Weka Pass Road Chardonnay 2014 (screwcap) 13%

Highly aromatic, struck match and pepper touches, the fruit more restrained, pineapple, marmalade perhaps. Linear palate, both acid and alcohol are firm, mouthfeel creamy but not soft. A complex, savoury style, with light racy fruit. Ready now.

Front label note – “702 bottles produced in 2014”

This wine is only available (maximum of three per order) to mail order customers, first time that I have seen it offered, seems that Bell Hill have produced this wine to preserve the integrity of their top white from 2014, Bell Hill Chardonnay, and released this second label as a mature wine – great idea.

[Author’s note – we drink a lot of Chardonnay in our household, from all over the world, so oak impact and reduced sulphurs compounds are not unappreciated Chez Tudor, however this was one of the more controversial examples recently and was not unanimously liked – the MW however had the casting vote]

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“Sheep don’t drink wine…”

In late 2010, having been in Germany for three days already, I boarded a bus in the Rheingau for a trip downriver, towards the confluence with the Mosel, along with a number of MWs and MW students.

However not long after setting out we stopped just outside a little village in the Mittelrhein, walked up a short driveway and then to the vineyard on the crest of a hill. This was my introduction to German viticulture and the experience was shocking.

This is Pinot Noir – a variety that has been in Germany for some considerable time it seems. And yet it has only been a relatively recent revolution that has seen Pinot Noir take its place at the head of the German wine scene.

Later that week I got to taste a few Spatburgunders at the annual Grosses Gewaches tasting – but this was a dazzling experience. The room was filled with winemakers from all over Germany, not just the Rheingau, and there were well over a hundred stands, all of which had at least four or five wines available to taste. Yes, many of those wines were Riesling, the variety Germany is most famous for, but there were dozens of red wines on offer, and not just from Pinot, but other varieties too. So – a confusing afternoon (compounded with having less than two hours before our bus to the airport was due to leave.)

This week a few very lucky people got to taste some of Germany’s finest Spatburgunders, but more impressive than that we were able to learn all about the German Pinot Noir revolution from a talented MW, London based Anne Krebiehl MW.

This Auckland tasting was hosted by Jane Skilton MW, from the NZSWS, but the wines were provided by the VDP, the organisation of quality German producers, so many thanks to those people for shipping these wines across to New Zealand. None of these are available in New Zealand, and while there are a couple of German Spatburgunders on sale here, it is very difficult to get a sense of the scale of what is produced. This was an outstanding workshop in that regard.

As Krebiehl explained, there is more Pinot Noir grown in Germany than Australia and New Zealand combined (and a lot is used here in sparkling wine production.) A single region, Baden, has almost as many hectares under Pinot than New Zealand has. And Pinot is planted in all the main wine regions, from the Mosel in the west, all the way over to Sachsen on the eastern boundary of the country. And the latitude spread is fairly large as well, over 4 degrees, so she believes it is very hard to generalise about German Pinot styles and regions for that matter.

The couple of Spatburgunders that I have tasted in the years since my trip to Geisenheim were both from the Ahr and this is still one of the leading regions for the variety, however we tasted excellent wines from other regions with which I am more familiar via their Rieslings.

It is truly refreshing to come across a wine expert who calls a spade a spade. Anne was not only open with her preferences, she was also critical of the tendency of some (a small minority) of producers who over extract or who are too heavy handed on the oak. As she sees it (and as confirmed by my tastings in Germany, as well as this one) the hallmark of German Spatburgunder is acidity. If the wines do not show that freshness, then they are just another Pinot, they could almost be from anywhere.

The other thing that may be difficult for some New Zealand wine buffs to get their head around is that these wines do not show huge depth of colour. Hopefully we are starting to get over this – but the massive dark purple hues, most commonly associated with Central Otago Pinots and/or cold soaking prior to primary fermentation are becoming less common. People need to close their eyes when they drink Pinot – the appearance is not, as one very famous Kiwi winemaker lectured me one day, the first major feature we should focus on when coming to this variety.

For me, that aspect is the aromatics, and these German wines are so precise and fine that they totally sing in terms of aroma and bouquet. And in terms of weight, while Pinot is a naturally lighter bodied red than other varieties, there is plenty of grip and concentration here. These are elegant, but serious reds, with a group of dedicated, crafty winemakers behind them, and our winemakers need to wake up and smell the Spatburgunders.

 

The wines:

Gutzler Westhofener Spatburgunder Trocken 2015 VDP Ortsweing 13% (Rheinhessen)

A fabulous entry point, cherry liqueur and vanilla notes, a whiff of smoke, but bright, crisp and fresh, and there is also some restraint, suggesting good cellaring potential lighter in body and tannins than some of the wines to come, this was one of my favourites nonetheless for that purity and fruity immediacy.

Schlossgut Diel Caroline – Blauer Spatburgunder 2015 VDP Gutswein 13% (Nahe)

Ms Krebiehl opined that this wine may have some Brett influence, certainly it was one of the more developed wines on show, with a cooked, vegetal character on the nose, very dry tannins, sharp acidity and yet at same time real sweetness in the mouth. Apparently from an organic producer, in a marginal growing area, this wine is ambitious, but not quite there yet.

Siegrist Schlemenstuck Pinot Noir Trocken 2013 VDP Gutswein 13% (Pfalz)

This wine reminded me most of the Pinots Noir we see a lot here in Aotearoa – darker colour, intense, confected nose, cooked berry, liqueur like, with noticeable oak influence, slight green bean character on the finish. Dense, firm and concentrated, Krebiehl put this solid structure down to the loess soils in which it is grown.

J J Adeneuer No. 1 Spatburgunder Trocken 2014 VDP Gutswein 13.5% (Ahr)

One of the standout wines in the tasting, the nose here just reeks of ripe strawberries, with an attractive herbal or savoury undertone. This is a pretty, delicate, juicy, upfront style,  some juicy fruit in the mid palate and lovely grainy tannins, from a cooler vintage, I thought it was damned fine now, but apparently this should keep well to boot.

Blankenhorn Schliengener Olacker Spatburgunder Trocken 2015 VDP Erste Lage 13% (Baden)

Another in the crisp and fine style, here perhaps more confected fruit, macerated cherries, a smoky secondary element. The influence of some new oak shows through on the palate, which is creamy and warm, 2015 was apparently a warmer year and this wine is weightier as a result. Very attractive as a young wine, but needs time.

Geheimrat von Mumm Assmannshauser Hollenberg Spatburgunder trocken GG 2013 13.5% VDP Grosse Lage (Rheingau)

“From probably the most iconic Pinot Noir vineyard in Germany,” warned Krebiehl, and certainly as a Great Growth, there was a step up here in concentration and complexity. Deeper in colour, a more savoury, game meat nose, exotic dark fruit, although much of it still locked up and subdued. The palate was creamy and spicy, though I thought a slight green edge detracted a little, so I was perhaps not as enthusiastic as others.

Kunstler Assmannshausen Hollenberg Spatburgunder GG 2015 13.0% VDP Grosse Lage (Rheingau)

Kunstler make some of Germany’s most famous Rieslings (I have only ever tasted the one…) but impressive to see that they have also become one of the leaders of the New Wave Pinot Noir.

More dark fruit here, this time plum or pastille, intense primary characters supported by smoky, sappy secondary tones. Lovely savoury oak on the palate, but overall the impression is very refined, a deft touch, this is a tight, structured, elegant wine with many years ahead of it. My favourite of this remarkable tasting.

Bernhard Huber Malterdingen Alte Reben Spatburgunder 2015 13.0% VDP Ortswein (Baden)

Another bright, youthful looking wine, raspberry, redcurrant fruit, real sweetness here and immediate fruit appeal, but that is nicely counterbalanced by a leafy, savoury note. Gorgeous fruit in the mouth, finished by racy acidity, a beautiful, pristine wine and a great honour to the late Bernard Huber, the “godfather” of German Pinot Noir.

Schmitt’s Kinder Randersacker Sonnenstuhl Spatburgunder 2014 13.5% VDP Grosse Lage (Franken)

A sweeter and richer wine, this shows more syruppy and evolved fruit characters, there is even a hint of chocolate or mocha in the mouth. Plump and curranty, and yet the acidity would really fool you in a blind tasting, this wine seems relatively unevolved and needs lots more time.

 

The last three wines were grouped in a flight because they all show some influence or other of stems in the ferment.

Rudolf Furst Centgrafenberg Spatburgunder GG 2015 13.5% VDP Grosse Lage (Franken)

The nose is currently shut down now, maybe a hint of woodsmoke or caramel, for me the pleasure was all on the palate, which was savoury and wild, yet racy and fresh all at the same time. The tannins here are excellent, really grainy and fine, the fruit solid all the way to the finish, so starting to show some secondary development, but this is a sleeper, needing years and years to show its best. A standout.

Kreuzberg Silberberg GG Spatburgunder Trocken 2015 13.0% VDP Grosse Lage (Ahr)

Anne thought that the wine in her glass (seemingly in mine too?) was out of condition (“wet mop” she called it) not sure what has affected it, but for me it was difficult to discern anything at all above the oxidation.

The colour appears very youthful, bright purple (perhaps a pH issue?), but the nose is over developed nose, meaty / dusty, in the mouth the wine seems heavy, not extractive, but clunky and solid, rather than racy. There is also a very strange malty character, is there some connection to the 5 days cold soak, or has this just had a bad journey? Hard to say.

Aldinger Gips Marienglas Spatburgunder GG 2015 12.5% VDP Grosse Lage (Wurttemberg)

One of the more complex wines on show, very savoury and smoky, gamey characters that would not be out of place in a certain well known Pinot Noir region of France. But I had trouble with the nose here – my first impression was of spearmint toothpaste and as I went back to it (and back to it, and back to it) I could not shake that aroma. So while this wine has great texture and richness (“toothsome” might be appropriate here), there is also a distinct green edge here which some critics have a problem with. Apparently the winemaker deliberately picks early – and that greenness melds with the wine over time – but will aromatically very classy, not one of my faves.

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Why some in one of our prestige rural industries think a water royalty is a good idea

Disclosure of interest: Paul Tudor MW is a member of Fish & Game and Forest & Bird, formerly member bodies of the Land & Water Forum and recently joined the Labour Party, however these views are his own

 

Jacinda Ardern is apparently a fan of Lindauer Brut, other than that, we do not know whether she enjoys NZ Sauvignon Blanc. And yet Labour’s proposed water levy could turn out to be a lifesaver when it comes to our wine industry.

Nobody seems to know exactly how much of our wine industry is controlled by foreign owners (one recent pundit guessed 65%), but we do know that Sauvignon Blanc dominates our exports and that the percentage of bulk exports is on the rise (around 25% according to that same pundit.) Winegrowers NZ does not publicise these statistics, whereas their counterpart across the ditch does, in fact we can learn a great deal about the global wine market from Wine Australia, including a few sour tasting lessons.

I recently visited Australia to do some wine work and one of my colleagues there asked “Have you guys hit the Sauvignon Blanc wall yet?” The question is a doozy, for fifteen or so years ago, Australia ran into a brick wall, a massive oversupply of Chardonnay that they couldn’t sell anywhere, which they are only now just getting over and customers are starting to get interested in Chardonnay again.

Swing over here and look at what is our most important wine export, Sauvignon Blanc. A few years ago the UK was our big growth market for Sauvignon, then it became Australia, briefly, and now it is the US, this to me is a worrying signal… What has happened is that markets have fallen in love with the punchy, intensity of the variety as expressed in our growing conditions, only for that fervour to fade.

Bulk wine exports will continue to be a significant part of our industry, as concern over carbon miles grows. Non tariff trade barriers are one of the icebergs floating out there that could derail the rapid growth in our wine exports (the other is the boredom factor with Sauv – lack of diversification.) Done well, bulk shipping of Sauvignon can be successful, although it inevitably does impact on aroma and bouquet, so is not really suitable for the premium market like your Churton or Dog Point. Ideally where we want to be is more at that quality end, adding value, however a succession of industry leaders do not seem to share that vision (perhaps because of the dominance of the big multinationals?) and so long as the variety grows like a weed and can be cropped heavily without too much impact on flavour, then who cares, right?

This is where irrigation comes in.

Many of the water rights for ground water irrigation of vines have already been allocated, especially in more developed regions such as Marlborough. And some companies have had to start collecting their own water on their properties.

But if you are on the flat in Marlborough and running a double canopy system and aiming to crop your Sauvignon at 12 or more tonnes per hectare, then you need plenty of leaves to get the sugar levels high enough, and you need water.

And lots of it.

Labour’s tax royalty may have an initial negative impact on some winegrowers trying to establish new vines, those first few years are crucial in a wine’s establishment, or to those who use aquifer water in overhead sprays as a frost protection measure. Presumably having consulted the industry, exceptions can be made for extreme circumstances or any serious weather events, including droughts (high quality European wine regions generally frown on irrigation – however the rules are occasionally loosened for severe drought.)

Yet there remains too much dependence on irrigation for certain wine styles, most notably heavily cropped Sauvignon Blanc. This is a problem for our future profitability and sustainability as an industry.

Low yields do not automatically mean higher quality wine, but it is a starting point for better quality. And market perceptions of our wine seem to be different between markets, but surely that better and higher value wines are the way to go (improving our “productivity” and sustainability by putting more money back into our wineries.) Eventually the end consumers are going to wise up to diluted flavours and high acid wines propped up with residual sugar and other winery tricks.

Meantime, we are slowly steaming towards that brick wall of a Sauvignon Blanc oversupply…

If we look at the vintages from 2010 to 2017 (and these are national averages, not Marlborough alone), the average yield for a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in this country has been 12.15 t/ha. And that includes the outlier vintage of 2012, when it was 8.94 t/ha. 13 tonnes appears regularly (2017, which was badly affected by rain, came in at 12.95 t/ha.)

In Sancerre, where great unoaked Sauvignon Blanc originated, the law states that the maximum you can crop is 8 t/ha, though in exceptional years, and they do have to be amazingly good in terms of weather conditions, you can apply and get that extended above 9 t/ha.

We should probably be aiming for our Sauv Blanc vineyards to be cropping in that sub 10 t/ha level if we want to make premium, higher priced Sauvs, all things being equal, with good training systems, canopy management, balanced vines.

Now our government and Winegrowers NZ have been clear that they will not legislate to reduce yields, but a water royalty on those growers who do use irrigation water can be a practical first step to encourage lower yields, better canopy management and potentially higher quality harvests and finished wine. Sustainable Winegrowing NZ (SWNZ) does not place limits on the amount of irrigation water that can be used, it just merely notes this as an area for attention, but the water “tax” will have an immediate impact on those who chose to hang heavier croploads.

This is clearly what Sam Weaver, and other, enlightened winegrowers were saying after recent controversy over Labour’s proposals:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/agribusiness/96076158/wine-marlborough-criticised-for-political-stance-on-labours-water-policy

To round out this opinion piece, a brief look at the lessons learned by the Champagne industry.

In the late 1980s, Champagne fell on hard times.

The 1987 sharemarket crash had not helped with the demand side, but there were also supply issues. A number of houses had expanded quickly, and there were also new players entering the market, co-operatives in some cases, in others old, defunct houses were resurrected, often having no vineyard land and very little stock in the cellar. Initially there was a lot of horse trading in stock, it was legal then to purchase half made Champagne in bottle and finish it off with your own label, cork and cage. But then these new entrants were hit by the sharp drop in demand brought about by the financial markets downturn.

So prices started heading down.

With their margins suffering and some companies nearly going to the wall having to pay for all these bulk purchases, industry leaders took the bold step of sitting down and thrashing out some new rules.

The first major change was to cut production for any subsequent vintages. They did this by eliminating the Deuzieme taille (“second cut”) at the press, so only tete de cuvee and Premier taille (“first cut”) could be used in a wine labelled Champagne.

The second step was to increase the minimum ageing period before a bottle could go on the market. This had the immediate effect of aiding the wines already in the cellar, a few extra months does wonders for high acid, high cropped bubbles. It also shut off the tap into the market, so prices started to turn around again.

The major Champagne stakeholders carried out these changes at the start of the 90s and the industry has never really looked back. It was to be some years before the sale of unfinished wine (“sur lattes”) was to be outlawed, but the key changes that happened during the industry consultation were to lower yields and temporarily at least, restrict supply for what was a better and more attractive product as a result.

 

[Postscript – there is also a lot of water used in wineries – and arguably dealing with that winery wastewater may be more of an issue than vineyard runoff, which is why some companies have developed wetlands near their wineries and other innovative solutions to that problem.]

[Post postscript – if we are talking non tariff trade barriers, given the hoopla around carbon miles and New Zealand wine a few years ago, the fact that we promote ourselves as clean and green is also a major USP – if we don’t clean up our rivers then that is going to really destroy overseas consumers’ confidence in our wines.]

 

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