Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Pinot dedicated winemaker brings great change

It's never comfortable having to tighten our belts, literally or metaphorically, and with the rising price of, well, everything, these days, it has become extremely difficult for many wine retailers to keep their prices in check. Examples I could give from first hand experience in wine retail are numerous and range from low priced French rosé which is RRP $21.99 one month and $25.99 the next to top value Spanish wines which were RRP $23.99 on the shelf on one and are now $37.99. The wines remain the same, which begs the question: why? There are many, many more examples and many reasons given to retail wine buyers for the sharp increase in trade pricing, which has to be passed on. It is a similar story for much of the food we purchase and, despite some tangible reasons, many prices are out of alignment with excise rises and that other less tangible - global shipping costs. The price rise is typically not the fault of retailers. They bear the brunt of rising trade prices in the first place. It creates a conundrum for both the retailer and the consumer and is worth diving deep into, but that's another column. This week's thoughts centre around a good news tangible in a wine that has grown enormously in quality and not a cent in price. I could name other examples and they all relate to the incredibly noticeable rise in quality of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Having picked grapes a couple of times over the past week in Martinborough, I can testify first hand that the Pinots from New Zealand's 2024 vintage are going to give global Pinot lovers a run for their money.

All of the above made it incredibly refreshing to taste a wine that has risen in quality rather than price. And now has an additional winemaker on board whose job is solely Pinot Noir.

The wine in question is my top pick this week and comes from the superb 2021 vintage in Marlborough. It is the 2021 Whitehaven Pinot Noir, which is not available widely in supermarkets and has remained at RRP $34.99 for the past three years, despite the winery putting more financial resources into the production of this wine. 

The biggest one of those is a dedicated Pinot Noir winemaker's salary. That salary goes to Rowan Langdon, the first full time Pinot Noir winemaker for Whitehaven Wine Company, which has built its business around Sauvignon Blanc, most of which is destined for exports. 

Those of us lucky enough to have followed Whitehaven Wines over the past decade can see a strong dedication to Pinot Noir, albeit on a smaller scale than the company's white wine production. The 2021 Whitehaven Pinot Noir is by far the best yet and comes from a very good year; 2021, which Langdon says looks uncannily similar to 2024 with berries and bunches on the smaller side, but concentration of flavour amped up, without needing to dive into the winemaker's tool kit to add bells and whistles. The grapes were such good quality that the flavour and colour shine through as a result. All grapes for this wine were hand picked and sorted on a shaker table to remove raisins from high quality grapes. Cold maceration for three to five days accentuates the deep ruby colour. The impressive end result has a great depth of flavour, is fantastically well balanced by vibrant acidity that is held in check by fruit richness, a full body and a long finish. Langdon says he typically likes to add whole bunches to the ferment to add structure but he held off in 2021 as it wouldn't have worked with the season.   

It's still early days but the current 2021 release wine makes this a Pinot producer to watch.

  • Whitehaven has been recognised for the eighth consecutive year as a Hot Brand award winner in the March 2024 issue of Market Watch Magazine, an international publication produced by Shanken Communications, the publisher of Wine Spectator magazine.  

Wine of the week 

2021 Whitehaven Marlborough Pinot Noir RRP $34.99

Four vineyards and one dedicated Pinot Noir winemaker go into this deliciously deep plum scented Pinot Noir, which has an attractive soft, fruity approach with aromas of complex savoury mushrooms and finishing on a lingering, beautifully well balanced note. A keeper.

This is made from grapes grown on two vineyards in the Awatere Valley (Whitehaven Tussocks and Alton Downs) and two in the Southern Valleys area of Marlborough (Omaka and Brancott). French oak barrels (30% new) promote structure and smoothness rather than charred notes, which adds to the quality. 

A year in bottle, pre release, makes this wine exceptionally good drinking on release and history shows, it ages superbly for at least five years, in this case, potentially longer. 

What a difference a dedicated specialist employee makes.

If only specialists were as highly valued in other areas of employment in New Zealand today.