Central Otago leads organic charge

News that Central Otago leads organic winemaking in New Zealand should come as no surprise either to Pinot Noir drinkers or to anyone with a passing interest in organics.

The region is renowned for collaboration between winemakers whose vineyards are 80% Pinot Noir and, as of this year, 23% certified organic and biodynamic.

Organics has been a long term focus for the Central Otago Winegrowers Association. Members of the association collectively began adopting organic practices in 2007. Their decision was helped by funding from Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ) to support their transition to organic certification.

It helps no end that Central has the most continental climate in the country. It’s drier than the country’s generally maritime, generally wet, generally humid grape growing areas. While wind mitigates moisture in areas such as North Canterbury and the Wairarapa, most of New Zealand’s vineyards are strongly affected by moisture. Man made chemicals are the first port of call to help with vine disease but fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers are all rejected by organics

Findings from a survey this year revealed that 17% (320 hectares) of vineyard land in Otago is now fully certified in organic and biodynamic wine production with another 6% (115 hectares) of the region in the official three-year organic conversion process. This means that 23% of Central’s vineyard land area is now being farmed under certified organic and biodynamic practices. Land must be managed to a certified organic standard for three years before full organic status is granted by an organic certifying body. 

Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ) has been instrumental in helping to achieve this high proportion of organic winegrowing, through projects such as the Organic Focus Vineyard project and other industry workshops. 

New Zealand’s leading organic certifying body is BioGro NZ.

New Central Otago wines

Bargain buy

2017 Black Peak Pinot Noir Central Otago $37 to $40

Winemaker James McElrea sources the grapes in this wine from an organically certified vineyard in Queensberry, mid way between Wanaka and Cromwell. One third was whole bunch fermented and foot stomped to crush whole berries so there was no intracellular fermentation. The  balance was destemmed.  The wine spent 30 days on skins before it was pressed to tank and then moved to barrels for 12 months; 40% were new French oak. The wine is vegan friendly because no fining took place.

Bargains are in the eye of the beholder. This wine has beautiful dark cherry flavours, is dry with refreshing acidity and a medium body.

Treat of the week

2017 Misha’s Vineyard The High Note Pinot Noir $45

This is an appropriately named wine, if ever there was. It’s made with grapes grown on a north west facing vineyard slope at 210 to 350 metres above sea level on the shores of Lake Dunstan. Eight different clones of Pinot Noir were used, including UCD 5, 777, 667, 4, 115, Abel, 6 and 114. The grapes were chilled overnight before crushing and cold soaking for 5 to 7 days followed by a natural yeast fermentation. A small portion of whole bunches (6%) adds aromatic lift and the wine was held between 15-20% centigrade after fermentation to allow tannins to integrate. It was aged in French oak hogsheads; 300 litre barrels, 28% new.

This wine is from a vintage that’s widely regarded as a bit of a toughie, but, like so many other top Central wines from 2017, Misha’s Top Note is superlative – concentrated flavours and silky mouthfeel. Delicious.

Great things often come from adversity.


Reaching for the stars

2017 Chard Farm Central Otago Viper Vineyard $79

Every harvest presents a few curveballs but 2017 was a challenging one, say most Central Otago winemakers, including John Wallace from Chard Farm, who made this stunning Pinot Noir from the Viper Vineyard.

It’s my pick of the single  vineyard wines from Chard Farm’s latest new release range. Dry with pronounced fresh red fruit flavours, it sports lightness with intensity and complexity. Spicy and tasty. A great pinot Noir.

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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