Wine professionals and fans of Pinot Noir spent three days immersed in it from 1 to 3 February this year in Wellington city. This is my report. Stand out wines are highlighted below.
Seize the day, said a famous Roman poet called Horace. And that’s exactly what over 600 attendees did this year at the biggest wine event ever held in New Zealand – Pinot Noir NZ 2017. It might be more accurate to say we seized both day and night at this gig, which started early and finished even earlier, before beginning all over again.
Speakers ranged from local winemakers to international rock stars. Some stayed on topic more than others and among the roll call of big names were rockstar Maynard Keenan, Victoria University professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology Dame Anne Salmond and a bunch of Masters of Wine, including – a highlight for me – Jancis Robinson , whose description of great Pinot Noir as having charm, intrigue, persistence and memorability left my mouth watering.
The most powerful presentation was the opening ceremony where a formal Maori welcome introduced the concept of turangawaewae. It literally means ‘my standing place’ but its meaning is broader and deeper too.
Turangawaewae is the place we call home.
It’s the place we feel most connected to, most anchored in and where we put our roots down.
When it comes to wine, the Maori word turangawaewae has a lot in common with the French word terroir. Both refer to the solid ground beneath our feet but both include a far wider, harder to define meaning, which makes them pretty much perfect for describing factors that are otherwise too long to list, including the climate, weather patterns, soil (type, depth, moisture retention qualities and so on), geography, wind, light, heat intensity and more.
Wine lovers know these factors have an enormous effect on the taste of grapes and the wines they make, so it can be tempting, on occasion, to skim over these details, as if they are so well known that they do not need to be spelt out. And yet, in wine as in the rest of our lives, the little things do need to be spelt out.
It is when the little things are spelt out sensitively and insightfully that it all makes sense. This is what made winemaker Sarah-Kate Dineen’s presentation of North Canterbury so compelling.
She is a Central Otago winemaker (of Mount Maude wines) but she was charged with the task of talking about a region other than the one she makes wine in. She left no stone unturned, if you’ll excuse the pun, in her humble and humorous overview of North Canterbury as a wine region, the style of its wines, its climate, the role that the Teviotdale Hills play in all of this – and in her final, thought provoking question: what makes the winemakers there so maverick?
She was humorous and right on the nail when talking about the inter-related correlation between the place and the people in it.
She was followed by Tongue in Groove winemaker Lynnette Hudson, who also did an outstanding regional presentation, but I found it frustrating to hear some speakers bypass many of the physical, climatic and cultural attributes of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir regions and wine producers. It’s not easy speaking in front of hundreds, but sometimes there is only one chance to seize the day or even the moment.
The diversity of speakers was a strength, however, varied their approaches might have been. There was a wider range of viewpoints, greater level of confidence among the wine producers and a higher overall quality of wines shown at this event than at any of the other Pinot Noirs events held over the past 16 years in New Zealand.
Overall, the three days that were Pinot Noir NZ 2017 left a positive and deep indentation in many minds, mine included, about the importance of place, people and Pinot Noir. This includes the place of Pinot Noir in this country, the place of Maori culture in New Zealand and last, but certainly not least, the place each of us is in our lives. That sense of turangawaewae – of belonging to a place and to a group of people – has never been stronger at any wine event I have ever attended. Bravo.
The modern day life of a wine writer
I attended Pinot Noir NZ 2017 as a wine writer and author as well as the previous weekly wine columnist for The Dominion Post, Waikato Times & Christchurch Press and, several years earlier, a long term wine columnist for The NZ Herald). Newspaper wine columns are thin on the ground in this country today, so I now write for Capital magazine, Good magazine as well as the two trade publications Drinksbiz and NZ Winegrower magazines. I also write here in my online wine magazine, about wine, people and the interesting relationship between the two.
Five enduring memories of Pinot Noir NZ 2017
Turangawaewae and that sense of place – This is Maori for ‘my standing place’ or ‘our standing place’ and it captures that incredibly powerful notion of connecting with the place that each of us feels we most belong to. It was the overall theme of of this year’s Pinot Noir conference from the Maori opening ceremony to the last, tearful closing address by Elaine Chukan Brown, who is from Alaska and was so moved by the inclusiveness of Maori culture in New Zealand that it brought her to tears on stage.
The tasting roadshows – It is impossible to taste every single wine at a conference such as this one but the highlights, as listed below, are wines that, I believe, are becoming tastier each year.
Humility – it was humbling to hear winemakers from one region praise the wines of their rivals from other regions.
Friends in wine – Despite everything drilled into me at journalism school about retaining objectivity, I not only love wine but feel privileged to be a part of this country’s wine scene and to have many of my closest friends working in it. It is an event greater privilege to be able to chronicle their journey and that of the wines they make.
The wine band – talented, funny and outstanding with their rendition of my hometown band’s, The Bats’ song, North by North. Big thanks.
Labels to look for – these are my top wines from Pinot Noir NZ 2017
2015 Lime Rock Pinot Noir
This is stellar for a Pinot from an out of the way spot in Central Hawke’s Bay where the grapes are grown on soft limestone rock – which can be beneficial to vine health and to the taste of the wine.
2015 Sileni Plateau Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir
This winery makes more Pinot Noir than the entire North Canterbury region in many years, which is one of many reasons this wine warrants more than a passing mention – the main reason is that it’s downright deliciously well balanced – pale in colour, medium in body, bone dry with refreshing high acidity driving its red fruit flavours to a lingering finish. The winemaking team at Sileni is doing an exceptional job with a wide range of grapes and shining a new light on Hawke’s Bay’s cooler vineyard site potential in this wine.
The Wairarapa: Wellington Wine Country
(Martinborough, Gladstone and the northern Wairarapa)
2015 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
2015 Big Sky Pinot Noir
2015 Craggy Range Te Muna Pinot Noir
2015 Dry River Wines Pinot Noir
2015 The Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir
2011 The Escarpment Kiwa by Escarpment (aged wine for tasting)
2015 Escarpment Pinot Noir
2014 Julicher Pinot Noir
2015 Kusuda Pinot Noir
2014 Martinborough Vineyard Home Block Pinot Noir
2015 Te Kairanga Runholder Pinot Noir
(So good to see this old label gain such a stunningly tasty new lease of life)
2013 Urlar Select Parcels Pinot Noir
2014 Urlar Pinot Noir
(Overall a label to watch, thanks to its new winemaker Carol Bunn)
2013 Bell Hill Pinot Noir
2015 Bellbird Spring River Terrace Pinot Noir
2015 Black Estate Home Block Pinot Noir2013 Pegasus Bay Waipara Pinot Noir $45
2015 Greystone Pinot Noir
2013 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir
2009 Pegasus Bay Waipara Prima Donna Pinot Noir – no longer available
(Tasted during the conference)
2015 Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir
2014 The Bone Line Pinot Noir
2015 The Crater Rim Pinot Noir
2015 Tongue in Groove Pinot Noir
2015 Aronui Single Vineyard Nelson Pinot Noir
2015 Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir
2015 Allan Scott Marlborough Pinot Noir
2015 Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir
2015 Astrolabe Province Marlborough Pinot Noir
2015 Brancott Dror Pinot Noir (yet to be released)
2015 Churton Pinot Noir
2014 Clos Henri Pinot Noir
2015 Corofin Settle Vineyard East Slope Marlborough Pinot Noir
2015 Dog Point Pinot Noir
2015 Framingham Pinot Noir
2015 Greywacke Pinot Noir
2014 Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir
2015 Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Noir
2014 Nautilus Pinot Noir
2014 Spy Valley Pinot Noir
2015 Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Pinot Noir
2013 Te Whare Ra Single Vineyard 5182 Pinot Noir
2013 Terravin Pinot Noir
2014 Villa Maria The Attorney Pinot Noir
2014 Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir
2014 Wither Hills Pinot Noir
2014 Zephyr Pinot Noir
2016 Zephyr Pinot Noir (Not yet released)
Central Otago and Waitaki Valley
2014 Akarua The Siren Pinot Noir
2015 Akitu A1 Pinot Noir
2013 Bald Hills Single Vineyard Pinot Noir
2010 Brennan Wines Pinot Noir
2014 Brennan Gibbston Pinot Noir $30
2015 Carrick Bannockburn Pinot Noir
2014 Chard Farm Mason Vineyard Pinot Noir $74 (not yet available)
2015 Cloudy Bay Calvert Pinot Noir (certified organic)
2013 Domain Road Central Otago Pinot Noir $38
2014 Domaine Thomson Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir Rows 1-37 $45
2015 Felton Road Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir
2015 Folding Hill Orchard Block Pinot Noir $65
2015 Ballasalla Pinot Noir $27
2015 Gibbston Valley Le Maitre Pinot Noir $85
2015 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir
2015 Kalex Pinot Noir
2015 Maude Mt Maude Vineyard Pinot Noir
2014 Misha’s Vineyard The High Note Pinot Noir (not yet available)
2014 Mount Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir $45
2011 Mount Edward Central Otago Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65
2015 Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir
2015 Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir
2015 Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir
2015 Peregrine Pinot Noir
2015 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir
2015 Two Paddocks The Fusilier Pinot Noir
2015 Valli Gibbston Vineyard Pinot Noir
2015 Wooing Tree Pinot Noir
2014 Wild Earth Special Edition Central Otago Pinot Noir $65
2014 Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir $42
The two Wild Earth Pinot Noirs were tasted outside of the Pinot Noir conference.