Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

Life as a wine

If life was a wine, it would have to be Pinot Noir.  It’s variable, sometimes great, often disappointing and frequently frustrating. And just when you think you’ve found a great one, along comes a challenge that turns that idea on its head. It’s been a year when friends and family have had turmoils that remind me strongly of Pinot Noir, so, 2020, here we come.

That said, it’s often easy to see why Pinot Noir is a tad challenging. It’s one of the trickiest grapes to grow.

Thin skinned. Early budding in spring (making it frost prone) and early to ripen too but since it needs a cool climate to retain its edge, it often suffers from frost around harvest time in late summer. It also suffers from mildew and fungal disease issues – two of the very things often associated with cool climates. All of which brings to mind the 2018 vintage in Central Otago, the third biggest wine region in New Zealand and the southernmost one in the world. A place where harvest usually takes place after everyone else has finished picking their grapes. Usually, Central is not the first place in New Zealand to harvest its grapes, unless… it was the summer of 2018 – one of the hottest on record in Central with high temperatures early on followed by record low rainfall then heavy rain and fungal disease issues,  due to humidity. Wind helped and growing degree days were relatively high, so, despite the challenges, there are Pinot Noirs of good quality. Some are even beginning to trickle out now, such as two of this week’s trio of top wines.

Tricky to master and understand as Pinot Noir is, it can be even more difficult to understand why life can be so complicated but at least there’s always great Pinot Noir to enjoy along the journey.

Wines of the week

2018 Misha’s Vineyard Cantata Pinot Noir $30

Cantata is the mid priced Pinot Noir in MIsha’s Vineyard range and is made with grapes grown solely on the estate owned vineyard in Bendigo. The grapes in this wine were destemmed with 25% whole bunches retained and fermented with natural yeasts. The ferment was hand plunged two to three times a day and kept warm, post ferment, to allow tannin extraction for an average of 22 days before the wine was pressed to tanks, cold settled, then aged in 300 litre French oak barrels until the following spring.

It drinks well now and will continue to evolve for three to four years. Dry, smooth and fruity with a lingering finish. It was filtered before bottling in October 2019.



2016 Main Divide North Canterbury Pinot Noir $25

When second tier wines taste this good, you know someone’s doing something right. And that someone is the entire winemaking team at Pegasus Bay winery in North Canterbury, owned by the Donaldson family. This wine is an outstanding, full bodied, dry, earthy and savoury drop from its release and for up to 8 years following. Density, concentration, ageability and deliciousness? All present and counted here.



2018 Misha’s Vineyard The High Note Pinot Noir $45

The High Note is the top Pinot Noir from Misha’s Vineyard in Bendigo, Central Otago. Estate grown grapes were fermented with natural yeasts with a modest 6% whole bunch fermentation and post ferment skin maceration time of about 24 days followed by aging in 300 litre French oak, 37% new. It was filtered before bottling in April 2019. Drinks well now and will unfold more flavour with time in bottle.


New Zealand third in world in London wine show

New Zealand  ranked third in the world for its medal tally at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London last month.

This country was awarded 14 gold medals and 287 medals overall in the first round of the 2020 International Wine Challenge. Australia was in first place with 36 gold medals and France in second place with 26.

The IWC is the biggest wine competition in the world and has a large number of judges, checks and balances, which means all wines are tasted, ranked and rated several times before conclusions about their quality is reached.

The 2019 Stoneleigh Wild Valley Wild Sauvignon Blanc was one of only six wines to score 96 out of 100 available points; an honour it shared with a Chablis Grand Cru and a premium red Burgundy from France.

“New Zealand has long been regarded as one of the finest producers of Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and the results from this first tranche of the International Wine Challenge prove that. It’s also great to see that a range of other wine styles from New Zealand, both white and red, were recognised for their excellence”, says Peter McCombie MW, International Wine Challenge co chairman.

Two Central Otago Pinot Noirs also hit new highs late last month at the IWC when the 2017 Wild Earth Pinot Noir and the 2017 Nevis Bluff Pinot Gris 2017 both took gold medals at the 37 year old competition.

The great name debate: Prosecco

Why are the Australians allowed to use the word Prosecco when it’s a legally protected name for use only in the Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli?

The Australians planted Prosecco grapes (prior to the grape’s name change to Glera) in 1974 in the King Valley, as Caroline Brown, of Brown Brothers Wines in Milawa, Victoria, explains.

Pictured: Caroline and Katherine Brown, of Brown Brothers Wines


What led to you making a Prosecco and what year was that?

CB:  The first Australian plantings of the grape variety Prosecco were in the King Valley, Victoria, in 1974 by the Dal Zotto family.  Our family members have always had a fantastic relationship with other wine producers in the region. Many of the varieties we make have an Italian influence, so when the opportunity arose to grow prosecco, we jumped at it.

When was the first Brown Brothers Prosecco made?

CB:  We released our first Prosecco in 2008. In the beginning, it was very much an education piece, explaining what Prosecco is, how it’s made and why the King Valley is a premium prosecco growing region.  Now, nearly everyone knows what Prosecco is, it’s pretty much become part of the everyday vernacular, “Let’s catch up over a Prosecco.”

Where did Brown Brothers Prosecco begin?

CB:  Nearly all our new varieties start their life in our Kindergarten winery, including Prosecco.  The Kindergarten or Kinder is our experimental and innovation micro-winery.  It operates like a larger winery would, but on a smaller scale.

It’s  very hands on with small tanks and small amounts of grapes.  Each year we trial new varieties, and new winemaking methods.  Sometimes we find or create something amazing, other times we go back to the drawing board.

How much of your sales is Prosecco today percentage wise?

CB:  The Brown Brothers Prosecco range makes up nearly 20% of our company sales.

How come you are allowed to legally use the name Prosecco in Australia and New Zealand?

CB:  Prosecco is the name of a grape variety used to produce sparkling wine. Prosecco is a historically recognised grape variety, including by the Paris based, International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).


  • In 2009, Italy changed the name of the Prosecco grape variety to Glera within the European Union (EU). Glera was virtually unknown and rarely used as an alternative name to describe the Prosecco grape variety in Italy.
  • Italy then registered Prosecco as a Geographical Indication (GI) in the EU, effectively shutting out wine imports labelled with the Prosecco grape variety from all other countries.
  • The Australian wine industry unreservedly rejects GI claims relating to Prosecco.
  • In 2013 the Australian wine industry successfully challenged an EU application to claim Prosecco as a GI in Australia.

What is the residual sugar in Brown Brothers Prosecco?

CB:  Our Prosecco NV and Prosecco Rose NV have 12 grams per litre of  residual sugar.  Consumers are definitely starting to look for a drier style Prosecco, which is great for us as the residual sugar hasn’t changed much over the years.

Any future plans with Prosecco at Brown Brothers?

We have recently launched our Limited Edition George Rose Prosecco in the New Zealand market, along with Prosecco Spritz.  We have also just launched Prosecco NV in a can with an exclusive retailer here in Australia.

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