Take ten with Hamish Kempthorne

On the eve of the biggest Pinot Noir event ever in New Zealand, meet Waimea Pinot Noir, made by Hamish Kempthorne

Who is your winemaking inspiration?

My earliest inspiration was my own grandfather making fruit wines in his garden shed and recording all manner of detailed winemaking notes in cherished and tattered notebooks. Many years on I have been lucky to enjoy the strong collegiate environment of New Zealand winemakers as we all share and aim for similar goals of making exceptional wines for the world. I have learnt a lot from talented winemakers along the way, including Alan McCorkindale and Andrew Blake who have since become good friends.

What do you see as the role of oak in red winemaking? And why?

Oak plays an important role in wines, providing tension and focus, yet hopefully never the brightest star on the stage. The role of oak in quality Pinot is to sensitively support the fruit and work alongside the natural grape tannin from the grapes… The barrels also provide a good place to sit my three kids when they are waiting for me to finish…

What’s the most important thing to you when making Pinot Noir? 

There is never one single thing. Pinot is devilish and unforgiving in both vineyard and winery, but this adds to the reward when it comes together. The vineyard is always near the heart of Pinot Noir and I try to bring honesty to the wine’s sense of place and have confidence in the vineyard to pick it early, while the natural acid is still adding focus and length to the finished wine.

What’s the best thing you can do to make great Pinot Noir?

Get out amongst the vines and develop a deep understanding of the vine and the soil, then get that sense of place into the bottle with as little interruption as possible. Now that we have Pinot Noir vines reaching 20-25 years in the ground, they are getting to a level where we now have the potential to re-evaluate and build wines to support a longer legacy in the bottle.

Anything else that helps in the winery…?

Pink Floyd – compulsory on any quality focused barrel hall playlist.

What are New Zealand’s most underrated Pinot noir regions?

Aside from Nelson…

Marlborough – the recently exploited southern valleys with their fragmented clay seams and higher vine planting densities are starting to show real class as vine age develops and we are able to manage Pinot Noir-specific blocks, rather than converted widely spaced Sauvignon Blanc vineyards.

North Canterbury – its odd environmental curve ball between vintages with the occasional frost and extended flowering, has fabulous hillsides and terraces that combine with chalky  soils to provide lovely tension and elegance in Pinot Noir.


Try this Pinot Noir…

2015 Waimea Pinot Noir RRP $25, 13% ABV

Nelson may be best known for its white wines but its reds can level peg in quality and value as this lively new Pinot Noir shows with its taste of red berries and red cherries, its dry style, its refreshing medium body, soft tannins and earthy flavours. This young red has complex flavours and drinks well now, but will definitely benefit from further aging, which will enhance the integration of flavours and a smoothness over the next five to eight years, possibly beyond.

4.5 stars – Joelle Thomson


Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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