If fermenting a wine in the vineyard sounds like an edgy idea, how about trying it in the cool of autumn in the South Island?

WInemaker Dom Maxwell and marketer Nik Mavromatis of Greystone Wines

The wines in question are the 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir and brand new 2017 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir. They are made from 100% certified organic grapes, fermented 100% with wild yeasts and aged 100% in older oak (no new barriques here). They were also fermented entirely in the vineyard.

It’s an unusual place to ferment grapes, even if it does, ironically, seem to be the most logical place to do it. No transportation is needed, for one thing, and that means the grapes can be picked and placed immediately into their fermentation vessels. What could be more logical?

The first time winemaker Dom Maxwell ever bottled a Pinot Noir that was fermented in the vineyard (rather than in the winery) was 2013 but that wine was firmly in the experimental category. Three years later, he made the first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir that was destined for commercial release.

It’s a distinctively different style of Pinot Noir from one of the great Pinot regions in this country – North Canterbury, which is home to Greystone Wines.

This week, a bunch of wine writers and retailers visited the vineyard to watch the Pinot grapes fermenting and taste the wines. I was invited. It was a great insight into an interesting new way (or should that be, an old traditional way) of producing Pinot Noir?

The wines are made without added yeasts. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Sulphur dioxide added only at bottling.

They are not the only top notch Pinot Noirs made at Greystone Wines by any stretch, but these wines do push new and interesting boundaries – in a good way. Winemaker Dom Maxwell uses 20% whole bunches of Pinot Noir in the ferment tanks and visits them all once a day, every day, to test the ferments. They tend to be .5% lower in alcohol than their counterparts that are fermented in the winery, which may in part be due to the wild yeasts and in part to the long, slow ferments in the cooler outdoor temperatures. In general, the outdoor ferments range from 24 to 34 degrees Celcius while the indoor winery ferments range from 26 to 33 degrees.

How it tastes

The 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir is a silky, graceful Pinot Noir and is as understated as its front label, which features an evocative illustration of the vineyard. The artwork is by illustrator Hanna Berry, who wandered into the vineyard with her sketchpad and drew a  picture perfect rendition of it, in black and white. It’s a fitting illustration for a Pinot Noir that is as interesting and tasty as the winemaking thought behind it.

Winemaker Dom Maxwell says he’s learnt a lot from the vineyard – “The best teacher when it comes to making wine.”