Saturday, 16 August 2014

The many faces of Pinot Noir

Altaya has been running Passion for Pinot for five years. This year's seminar, entitled’ Unmasking the Grape: Diversity and Identity’, presented by speakers from five wineries on both sides of the equator and moderated by Debra Meiburg MW, was definitely one of the best seminars I have attended this year.

The speaker line-up included:
• Erwan Faiveley, seventh generation of Domaine Faiveley owning some 120 ha of vineyards in Burgundy,
• Cédric Oillaux, brand ambassador of Godmé, a five generation grower champagne in Montagne de Reims,
• Jo Mills, owner of family owned Rippon in Central Otago, now run by
the fourth generation,
• Brian Bicknell, owner and winemaker of Mahi in Marlborough,
• Steve Flamsteed, chief winemaker of Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander in Yarra Valley,
• A representative of Walter Hansel Winery from Russian River Valley was not present but his wines were featured

Ask any winegrower and they will all agree Pinot Noir is a temperamental, fussy grape. This seminar focused on four areas: climatology, geology, topography and techniques. Each speaker shared their experience on how they tame Pinot Noir in their vineyards, and more importantly, spoke of their passion for this variety. All the speakers love their dirt, which they believe is the key component of shaping the wine, but each of them also had some unique insights.

Steve from Giant Steps said the many different soil types in Yarra influence the way vines find water and minerals, subsequently influencing the fruit. Therefore soil really dictates the personality of the wine.

Jo from Rippon echoed that tasting wine is about tasting its form and shape, which comes from the soil. Rippon’s vineyard is mainly schist from glaciers, which is highly reflective, and when it comes into contact with water remains how it was rather than crumbling like clay, giving her Pinot its dense structure.

Cédric from Godmé illustrated the relationship between the top soil, the sediments and clay with their water retaining capability and the underlying chalk (limestone) in Champagne. Pinot Noir needs more water than Chardonnay to ripen properly so prefers a deeper top soil, but it cannot be so deep as to obstruct the roots reaching down to the underlying limestone for minerals. There are 84 plots at Godmé each producing a different style of Pinot Noir. Grapes for making the Blanc de Noirs are grown on plots with 25-30cm of top soil.

Erwan from Faiveley further elaborated that while terroir dictates the wine style it is climatology that defines vintage, and this is especially important in Burgundy given the ever changing weather. Vineyards in Burgundy are about the matching of soils of different water retaining capability with the right topography.

Brian from Mahi agreed that soil is about structure and its water holding capacity. He also explained the importance of rainfall, which is not replaceable by irrigation. The function of the leaves is photosynthesis. Irrigation may provide water to vines in dry weather but cannot provide moisture to leaves. Leaves may be too dry, causing the stomata to close and preventing them from functioning properly.

We tasted two different wines from each winery to understand the interactions among these four factors and how they affect the final wine style. 10 Pinot Noirs from five wineries and they were all different. The pairs from Faiveley, Rippon, Giant Steps and Walter Hansel were from different sites but the same vintage so we were tasting the effect of soil and topography on wine, while Mahi’s pair was from different sites and also different vintages so we had more elements to consider. Godmé’s pair was all about climatology—the difference 500 extra sunshine hours during growing season can make.

• Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Brut NV: Perfect balance between ripe fruit and minerality
• Millésimé grand Cru Brut 2003: A very rare vintage Blanc de Noirs, the first and only one from Godmé thanks to the exceptional heat wave that year that gave the region 2,100 sunshine hours instead of the normal 1,600 (most vintage champagne has a high proportion of Chardonnay for the acidity). Partial oak ageing and 10 years of yeast autolysis further added complexity to the wine.

• Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012 from five different vineyards in the cooler region of Marlborough
• Pinot Noir Rive Vineyard 2010 from a biodynamic vineyard

• Tinker’s Field Pinot Noir 2011 from 30 year old vines on their own roots and unirrigated, grown on a light clay soil
• Emma’s Block Pinot Noir 2011 mainly on schist soil, definitely more dense on palate

Giant Steps:
• Sexton Pinot Noir 2012 from a north facing warmer site with thin topsoil
• Gladysdale Pinot Noir 2012 from a cooler site at 350m with volcanic soil.

Domane Faiveley:
• Nuit St Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes 2011
• Nuit St Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint-Georges 2011, more floral with a herbal touch when compared with the first wine.

Walter Hansel:
• Pinot Noir South Slope 2011, warmer site displaying plush sweet fruits
• Pinot Noir North Slope 2011

Try this kind of pairing for yourself and you will see how mother nature plays its part in wine. Hopefully this will help you understand and appreciate more different styles of wine.

All wines are available from Altaya Wines.

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