A very special place for Pinot noir
Here is some information that was prepared by Central Otago Pinot Noir Limited.
Central Otago is the southern-most grape-growing region in the world located at latitude 45º south (similar to both Oregon’s Willamette Valley, U.S.A., and Bordeaux in France). The first wine-grapes were planted in Central Otago in 1864. Despite the district’s potential as a wine growing area being recognised by French and Australian viticulturists from the 1860’s onwards, wine-grapes were not commercially grown again in Central Otago for more than a century. Modern day wine growing began in 1972 and shortly followed in 1975 with experimental plantings at Rippon Vineyard, Lake Wanaka. The first commercial release of a Pinot Noir from Central Otago, the regions flagship variety, was the 1987 vintage from pioneer Alan Brady at the Gibbston Valley winery.
OUR RECIPE FOR GREAT PINOT NOIR
This could be a pretty long debate, but it seems to us that there are a small number of key requirements for keeping Pinot Noir happy:
A narrow range of heat summation
GDD’s (Growing Degree Days) are measured in a few different ways so numbers are hard to compare, but the way we do it, 850 – 1100 in the growing season seems to be the sweet spot for Pinot Noir. In latitude, that generally means being at about 45-47º North or 44-45º South, (the Antarctic mass makes the Southern Hemisphere a touch cooler, so the band is a little farther North there).
Large diurnal shifts
A significant variation between maximum and minimum temperatures each day. Hot days, (but not too far above 30ºC), and cool nights, develop flavour complexity. That means being a continental rather than a maritime climate, but not so far from the sea that the frosts become untenable.
A long, cool, dry autumn
Hang time seems to really improve Pinot Noir. A micro climate that gets the fruit nearly ripe, then cools off and lets it hang for a while seems to add depth to the wine. But Pinot Noir is very susceptible to Botrytis, so low humidity and low rainfall in the autumn is a big plus.
A heavy but draining soil
In Burgundy, the combinations of Clay and Limestone achieve this. We have heavy Loess soils interspersed with gravels. Either way, the roots have heavy soil with good minerality and low organic matter, but don’t get waterlogged.
It might seem surprising that given such a short list, there aren’t a lot more places which fit this recipe for Pinot Noir viticulture. But a quick look at the world map shows why.
To get the diurnal shifts you need to be inland from the coast, (though the Californians get them through coastal fogs) but if you are too far in from the windward coast, the shifts get too great and frosts in Spring and Autumn get too dangerous. In the Northern Hemisphere there are only 2 continental masses: go inland on each, following the prevailing winds, from 45-47 degrees, moving eastward until the climate gets continental and you arrive at The Williamette Valley in the USA and Burgundy in Europe.
Try the same exercise in the Southern hemisphere and there are similarly only 2 land masses, one is Patagonia, where it is too windy to grow grapes. The other is Central Otago.
A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT
“If I were a grape, this is where I’d want to grow up”
photo credit ©Allan Johnston 2008
45 North and 45 South are very different worlds. In the temperate zones, global winds flow West to East round the planet. In the North that journey takes them through heavily populated and industrialised regions. In the South, there is only Central Otago and Patagonia. While well over 100 million people live between 44º and 46º North, there are less than 400,000 living in the Southern strip. This reflects in a lack of pollution and disease pressure – there is no vineyard in Central Otago within 200 kms of a traffic light!
We believe the natural health of our vines is a reflection of our isolation. It may be a bit quiet in the evening, but the grapes don’t mind that!
The word is out and many now know the one word to describe wines from Central Otago is “Stunning”. In the not distant future, followers of Central Otago will come to know a wine from Bannock Burn is different from Lowburn is different from Gibbston Valley is different from Bendigo. Just as other great wine regions of the world, Central Otago is small but the wines from the sub-appellations all carry their own story. This is also true for the wines crafted from single vineyard sites to those that show the winemakers blending skills.
Finding these wines can be a treasure hunt. When you do you can rest assured that you have a great bottle of wine in your hand. Just take a few bottles home and share some with friends. Stash a few for future enjoyment. You will be delighted for many years. How long is still to be discovered, only by putting a few away now, will you be able to participate in the future of this great region.
Read the back label – see who the importer is – they will mostly likely have other gems from New Zealand’s diverse wine regions. The wine shops and restaurants that have these wines available should be high on your list for enjoying wines from around the world. They are gems too.
There is a great book called Vineyards on the Edge the story of Central Otago Wine. Google it and share it with a friend. Dave Cull the author will appreciate it.
PS: Don’t forget to check out the white wines too. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc are all equally impressive.