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Central Otago Pinot Noir, a story of evolution

New Zealand`s most significant red wine grape variety, by far, is Pinot Noir, with some 5,779 hectares of vineyard, representing 14% of total production.  The wines differ stylistically by region, to a degree, however, efforts to generalise seem sweeping, and clumsy, not least because the terroir everywhere is so diverse, but also because winemaking, and styles of wine, are still evolving.  Even since I was there, in 2010, the wine landscape has changed significantly. For example, back then Central Otago was known for its fruit-bomb Pinots, big, sweet, and richly fruited. The semi-arid mountainous area, of schist, silt, and loess, was seen as an extreme place to make wine, much talked about as being the world`s southernmost vineyards. But Central Otago`s “Felton Road” that year was one of just two wines afforded “Grand Cru” status in all New Zealand, so clearly there was potential there. Indeed, on that trip I met Quintin Quider, winemaker of Wild Earth at his Central Otago Bannockburn vineyard, who demonstrated the challenges he faced by pouring a bucket of water into the ground, in his vineyard, which disappeared in front of my very eyes! The solution was to be the vineyard`s conversion to organic farming, to retain moisture and nutrients. Today, his wine has become more sophisticated, more savoury, and is exemplary of Pinot Noir from the warmer Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago: a well-structured, most beguiling Pinot Noir displaying violets and toast amid red and black fruits, and a background of dried thyme, cloves, and earthy flavours, becoming silky with age. Typical of the region, the wine has depth and concentration of flavour due to Pinot`s low yield there; and it is adept at retaining acidity thanks to Central Otago`s diurnal influences. And yet the fruit ripens well, and correspondingly alcohol levels are relatively high, due to the region`s warm Continental climate. A wine of substance, then, yet at the same time intricate, complex, and age worthy.  And this, just one story of the grape`s evolution in one small pocket of New Zealand. Cheers everyone!

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