• 'It's all about the schist' - tales from Pinot Central


    'It's all about the schist'

    Central Crush 2013: take 15 Central Otago wine producers, 10 NZ restaurateurs & 1 Aussie wine retailer (moi) add to the end of vintage 2013 and you have a particularly fine drop.


    Day 1 Sunday April 14: Queenstown arrival, Mt Edward Vineyard

    Queenstown in autumn vivid with the blue of Lake Wakatipu and golden poplars. Airport pickup courtesy Mt Edward Vineyard's Adam who identified himself clearly with his 'Jesus drank Riesling' T shirt. Back at Mt Edward, a cellar staffer in 'Bogan Blanc' T shirt cuts a figure of style. A day later, Matt Dicey from Mt Difficulty shows his inner hipster while celebrating the great drink.




    Anyone would think these guys weren't interested in pinot, or has the hangover from the Summer of Riesling been a hard one to shake?

    Tasting notes: 

    Mt Edward Morrison 2011 Pinot Noir - very pretty bouquet with fine, fine grip; the flavours bounce.

    Mt Edward Muirkirk 2011 Pinot Noir - Charry, big pinot, great structure. Brooding and serious. Pop away to ease.

    Aurum 2010 Pinot Noir - a highlight of the visit. Lucie Lawrence has made a beautiful and beguiling pinot - florals, notably violet but musky rose too. Anise and sweet spices. A complete drink, so perfectly balanced. Lucie uses 30% whole bunch and indigenous yeasts. Good vintages and excellent viticulture means better stem ripeness so more whole bunch - 'I like the way the ferment goes with some whole bunch, ' says Lucie. The wine certainly shows beautiful textural qualities.


    Day 2 Monday April 15: Aurum breakfast, Wooing Tree grand tasting, Felton Road ferments, a tour through Vinpro & Northburn's bucking merino


    Breakfast at Aurum in Lowburn, the garden a soft autumn picture with nicotiana, monk's-hood, roses, artichokes and herbs rubbing shoulders with the vines. The breakfast equally divine, with tasty bacon, freshly made ricotta, the warm hospitality of Joan Lawrence not to mention the inviting and comfortable cellar door.


    Lucie Lawrence's Aurum Pinots impress with each vintage, now she's making 'orange wine' with the help of her penpal Italian winemaker. A parcel of Pinot Gris is destined for the three different sized anfora, the interiors in the process of being lightly waxed while we quizzed Lucie on the super extraction of the skins that creates the 'orange' hue and gives the name to the style. Lucie is picture here with Steve Farquharson of Wooing Tree.


    Tasting notes from Grand Tasting at Wooing Tree:

    Felton Rd 2011 Calvert Pinot Noir - spice and warmth but blueberry too. Ultra fine tannins, juicy and lingers. A sense of nervous tension.

    Felton Rd 2009 Block 5 Pinot Noir - Block 5 is essentially a wash of gravel from a steep section of the vineyard, laid over a base of sandy loam. The wine is alive! So much power, some still latent. Intense currants and plum. Described by Felton Rd team as a 'precocious beast.'

    Quartz Reef 2011 Pinot Noir - Smoky bacon, meaty bones. Bendigo force and grunt even in 2011 vintage. 

    Mondillo 2011 Pinot Noir - Bright with lovely clarity. Sweet almond over cherry fruit on the nose. Plenty of zip, the fruit lively, energetic and supple. As always finesse.

    Mt Difficulty 2005 Pinot Noir - It snowed at Christmas in 2004. The bunches were small and loose set, with a high skin to juice ratio. Drinking really well - it's big, fruity and still very robust.

     Mt Difficulty 2011 Pinot Noir - Really pretty nose with dried rose petal and candied violet. Slurpy and smooth and ultra stylish in the mouth.

    Ceres 2010 Pinot Noir - spice, pepper, soft fruit but good backbone, all class. (Winestock wholesale in Australia)

    Chard Farm 2010 Mata Au Pinot Noir - Very juicy and elegant with suppleness. Exactly the right weight for spicy food. Charm and balance as always. A blend of Tiger (Lowburn) and Viper (Parkburn) fruit. The best rows go into Tiger and Viper Pinots respectively.

    George Town 2010 Pinot Noir -  these wines were highlights of the Pinot Celebration in 2012 and they impressed again here. Full and rich wine, concentrated but not harsh, abundant black fruits. Focus.

    George Town 2007 Pinot Noir - Very small berries in this low-yielding year. Deep and dark despite 6 years bottle age and a result of extra pigments from high portion of skins. Exceptional wine, so elegant, so silky, very satisfying. Oh that George Town Pinots were available in Australia.

    Grasshopper Rock 2011 Pinot Noir - Sydney Blue-Gold Top 100, in the same company as 2008 and 2009. Curiously the remarkable 2010 Pinot, which won everything else, wasn't so garlanded. In 2011 Grasshopper Rock is particularly aromatic - raspberry, strawberry, floral. The overall impression is one of delicacy and finesse with great presence.


    'The comfort of your history or the exhilaration of the new path' - Grant Taylor of Valli, who has also done several vintages at Domaine Dujac, on making wine in Burgundy v Central Otago 

    Valli 2011 Gibbston Pinot Noir - Foreceful, power and a great structural line. Outstanding ageing potential. Valli's 2006 Gibbston Pinot, from an 'awkward' year (but Valli Pinots were among the best from this big vintage) showed plenty of fruit, holding beautifully together.

    Rippon 2010 Pinot Noir - Vivid purple flashes. As always tremendous texture and the exotic Persian bazaar assortment of aromas - rose, almond, marzipan. It's a very pretty pinot but also powerful and with great presence. It evokes the drama and mystery of the extraordinary Rippon site on the shores of Lake Wanaka (pictured below)



    Aurum 2011 Pinot Noir - Another highlight pinot noir of the tasting. Inviting perfume, sweet fruit, 17% whole bunch in this vintage. Fine but intense, lingering flavours, a wash of tasty/savoury char over the fruit.

    Wooing Tree 2010 Pinot Noir - Dark fruits - plum, dark raspberry with roasted nuts. A robust but balanced pinot noir. Silky texture.

    Northburn 2010 Pinot Noir - Owner Tom Pinckney is the nephew of Ann Pinckney, who, as well as being one of the first women to study viticulture at Lincoln, was a pioneer in the establishment of vines in Central Otago. The 'Reserve' is their signature wine. Perfect clarity, purple tinges. Briary with cranberry and orange rind. Sweet spices. Vintage 2002 Northburn Pinot was tasted at the same time - rich colour still, secondary characters mingle with ripe fruits - mushrooms, cola, game, plum and coffee.

    An observation on vintage characteristics - 2011=vivacity, 2010=structured elegance, 2009=concentration & richness


    Vintage at Felton Road - a tour with Blair Walter

    The benign Bannockburn, the 'dress circle' of Central Otago, shows its moody side with rich autumn colours and a dramatic sky.


    The winemaker Blair Walter at vintage (below) - weary but with wiry strength and the experience of more than 20 vintages (in the northern and southern hemispheres) to smooth the way. Vintage 2013 according to Felton Road: '...the season was cool until the end of January. Frost in spring caused little more trouble than helpful shoot thinning. Summer came at the end of January and then it was unseasonably warm with 25 days above 30C and warm nights. That results in low acidity, but in the end not too low, the ripe flavours came early.'



    Lunch at Mt Difficulty featured a stellar array of pinots including Grasshopper Rock's famous 2009 Pinot Noir (all smooth richness) and Mt Edward's 2010 Morrison, another rich, deep, chocolatey picture of pinot perfection. There was subtlety too though - star anise, cardamom, floral - and juiciness. Both outstanding wines. That's Grasshopper Rock's Phil Handford on the far left in the cap.

    (And we won't mention the distinctly tasteless '80s clothing, mullet hairdos, inflatable bucking merino or the extreme dancing moves (thank you Messrs Pinckney, Walter & Handford), of the evening of Monday April 15. What goes on tour, stays on tour....)



    Day 3 Tuesday April 16, 2013: Serendipity, the heights of Bendigo, Quartz Reef, Wanaka and Rippon

    Breakfast at Serendipity Vineyard in Cromwell, on the way a closer look at how cold air pools in the lowest parts of the vineyards and the singeing effect of a very late and hard frost on the remaining leaves. It doesn't look so pretty but with the fruit picked or about to be picked there's no more need for leaf photosynthesis to aid the fruit to ripeness.

    All that whetted the appetite for a spectacular breakfast, courtesy Jo Lewis, featuring the Serendipity Coddled Egg: Grease a small ramekin, place a layer of chunky mashed potato (flavoured with mixed herbs, salt and pepper and butter) in the bottom. Carefully crack a large egg over the top, pour in a little cream, add Grana or Parmesan and a few drops of truffle oil. Bake in moderate oven for 12 mins.

    A tour of Bendigo with Quartz Reef's Rudi Bauer. 

    Austrian born Rudi Bauer arrived in Central Otago in 1985. He came with a degree in winemaking and viticulture from Salzburg, experience at Hawkes Bay, and Oregon in the off season, and was the first qualified winemaker in the region. His contribution has been enormous and is on-going. He's an all-round legend. The world according to Rudi:

    • 'The more we think about what we do, the deeper we connect' - the essence of biodynamics
    • 'Think about things twice - question on question'
    • 'Texture in wine is the form of terroir'
    • It's all about the schist: 'Schist = precision, detail, a reflection of site and counterpoint to Central Otago's naturally voluptuous style.'
    Memories of Bendigo - surprisingly high and rugged and incredibly barren. From afar the texture of the slopes appears to pulsate - actually rabbits on the move. Where there are protected areas, vegetation is staging a comeback. An eagle's dining table: tufts of fur, sun-bleached bones caught in the spiny structure of a flat-topped matagouri bush. What caused the denudation of the original forests of Central Otago? Maybe tree clearing for settlements, maybe forest burning by Maori, maybe not, venture some. Perhaps a giant meteor strike in the 1500s and the subsequent fires that raged for more than a hundred years.
    'The nerve centre' at Quartz Reef - a hive of activity, the making of Preparation 500 a labour of enthusiasm. A three centimetre ball of sweet-smelling manure that's fermented in buried cow horns is stirred into a wine barrel full of rainwater with birch broom. The stirring takes an hour, the serene stirrer alternates between creating a vortex in the water and then turbulence by energetically stirring the other way. This aerates the water, and fully disperses the manure; after an hour the texture of the water becomes noticeably silky. One barrel of prep 500 is enough foliar spray for 2 hectares. Over at Felton Road, their equivalent of the 'nerve centre' is called 'The Voodoo Lounge'. The humour may be wry and ironic but the commitment is 100%.


    The vineyard at Quartz Reef (above) is as perfect a site as can be imagined for a vineyard - 'a winemaker learns and chooses' - middle segment, north-facing slope, perfect gradient, vines run top to bottom. 'The site is unyielding, it has the word; it doesn't bend to you, you have to acknowledge and understand it and take what it gives.' And so the wines - I'd always found Quartz Reef Pinots to be intriguing and rather enigmatic more than loveable. This bothered me, but I discovered that the memory of them always remained where others had drifted away. Now I understand, the wine is the essential reflection of the site - it is what it is; no bending, no obeisance to style, it is.

    Wanaka and Rippon with Nick Mills

    Lunch at Rippon featured Lois Mills' famous slow cooked beef, as tender and sweet as beef can be, before time to sit, listen, taste and take in the vista over vineyard and Lake Wanaka. Winemaker/owner Nick Mills, fourth generation Mills to farm the land, and the second to grow vines, eruditely interprets his own piece of Pinot Central for our enlightenment.

    Rippon people are also fully immersed in the culture of biodynamics which they see as an essential part of life and their 'custodianship' of the Rippon site: 'Granted a moment of custodianship, the primary interest of all who work and live at Rippon is to do justice to this remarkable piece of land.' And it's still all about the schist: 'Schist: the metamorphic mother rock, rich in foliated mica and quartzite is deposited as glacial moraines, coarse-layered gravels, ancient lake-bed clays and wind-blown loess'

    A walk through the vineyard, the pickers deftly cutting neat bunches of pinot noir from green and golden vines; some bunches have added a poignant touch to the steps across the tranquil pond to Rolfe Mills' (aka Dream Genie and founder of Rippon Vineyard) memorial site. 2012 Rippon Pinots out of barrel an exciting glimpse on what is to come, quite punchy and powerful fruit in that vintage; the team seems equally excited about their schnapps project. But that's the nature of the beast - pinot noir producers seem to be a naturally curious and easily fascinated lot, inspired no doubt by the enigmatic nature of pinot noir.

    And the other abiding memory (apart from the amazing wines, people and landscape)? The perpetual call of the Central Otago wine producer - 

    'Anyone wanna beer?' 




    Pinot Shop proprietrix Michele Round was the guest of COPNL - Central Otago Pinot Noir Limited, a promotional association of Central Otago producers