Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Wines of the week – four South Island Pinot Noirs

Joelle Thomson’s wines of the week are published every Friday (or Monday, on occasion). Read on.

What are old friends for, if not to share some of life’s most affirming moments, often with great wine (or for some, perhaps a beer) and food. One of my oldest friends reminded me this weekend of many shared memories that had sprung to mind after a challenging year of ill family members, interesting work challenges and the global pandemic to contend with. One memory that we haven’t shared, until now, is a recent one when my friend and their life partner visited a small winery that makes great wines in an unexpected location. We happened to have visited the same winery within weeks of each other. Both of us were taken aback by just how good this place and its wines are. Greystone Wines is situated a couple of minutes’ drive down a dusty road off the main State Highway in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury. It’s not exactly an auspicious location but it is emerging to be one of this country’s best wineries, in terms of quality, style and sheer outstanding consistency. And now this little winery has a new-ish restaurant on site. The low key cellar door has been transformed into a modern small room where deliciously healthy day time food is served on shared plates, produced by professional chefs and foragers, who are equally as passionate and informed about ethical food production as the winemakers are about their 100% certified organic wines.

Here are four Pinot Noirs from Greystone, all outstanding.

17.5/20   4 stars
2017 Nor’ Wester Pinot Noir $22.99 to $26.99
Nor’ Wester Pinot is named after the eponymous dry north west wind that blows through North Canterbury’s vineyards, often decimating bunches of grapes and ensuring that those remaining retain thicker skins than Pinot Noir is used to. This defines the earthy structure and character of the wines made in this region and, even at this relatively humble price, the quality is high. Nor’ Wester is a blend of grapes from the region, fermented in small batches with daily hand plunging and aged in French oak for 10 months. It’s a very similar style to Greystone Pinot Noir, only it’s not made from 100% estate grown grapes.

19/20    5 stars
2017 Greystone Pinot Noir $41
Hand picked and hand sorted grapes are wild yeast fermented with a small percentage of whole bunches to add structure to this full bodied, earthy flavoured, silky textured wine made from grapes grown on north facing, limestone rich slopes in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury; home to Greystone’s fully certified organic vineyards.

2018 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir $75
The first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir at Greystone was created in 2012 as an exploration of what flavours might happen with wild yeast ferments in situ in the vineyard, literally. The grapes never make it to the actual winery, until they are finished wine. It’s a fascinating process to watch small tanks fermenting in different parts of this vineyard, which is fully certified organic and far cooler in temperature than the winery, which means that ferments typically take longer. This vintage is another tasty vineyard ferment from winemaker Dom Maxwell and the Greystone team, who invited me and a group of other wine professionals to watch and learn for a day as the wine fermented. This is a beautiful earthy, dry, savoury tasting Pinot with spicy layers of flavour and a long finish. It’s deceptively pale colour, savoury in style and has time on its side – it’s sealed with a screwcap, drinks well now and can  evolve positively for five years, potentially longer.  

2018 Greystone Thomas Brothers Pinot Noir $100
This is the top Pinot Noir from Greystone Wines, made with grapes grown on the highest part of the north facing, organically certified vineyard, which is exposed and windy. This reduces the size of the crops and concentrates the flavour of this Pinot Noir because the skins of the grapes tend to be thicker from this part of the vineyard site. All grapes in this wine are hand picked, hand sorted and fermented with wild yeasts and a small portion of whole bunches in the ferment to add structure.
The wine tastes youthful, dark and savoury right now and needs time to soften and mellow. It’s impressive and will become even more so with age.

  • Greystone is one of two wineries in New Zealand to make it onto the 2020 Top 100 Wine Discoveries by leading wine authority Robert Parker. The other wine to be awarded this accolade is the 2018 Tony Bish Heartwood Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay.