Pinot Noir NZ 2013 – Notes From Wellington

by Chuck Hayward

Every three years, a large portion of the wine world descends on Wellington, the small capital city of New Zealand. Four days of informative seminars and lectures follow, combined with tastings of current and older vintages of Kiwi pinots. This year sees a large contingent of British wine critics in attendance, including Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin, alongside local representatives such as Matt Kramer and Alder Yarrow, putting forth their observations on New Zealand pinot. Aussies and locals make up most of the rest but there are many other countries represented among the 500 people in attendance.

For many in the trade, Pinot Noir NZ represents a unique opportunity to advance their knowledge about the category and, perhaps, take the steps necessary to place New Zealand’s pinots in a global perspective. I’m here to offer my comments as someone who has worked in the category for twenty years while seeking out exceptional wines for our customers.

All of this has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the country’s willingness to discuss the inherent complications surrounding the production of great pinot has prompted some observers to note the larger issues surrounding the event. Wine scribe Jordan Mackay, for instance, noted that the conference seemed like a therapy session, where New Zealand winemakers attempt to work out problems, such as their individual relationships to terroir, or finding an appropriate expression of the grape. Indeed, it does seem that seminar topics and comments from the floor justify his observation.
Over the past 30 years, New Zealand’s wine industry has seen pinot’s role ascend from obscurity to international fame. And justifiably so, I might add. Each of the major winemaking regions, stretching from Central Otago towards the famous vineyards in Martinborough, has developed a signature style that expresses their unique terroirs. They have rightfully assumed their place as some of the best pinot noir regions in the world.

But I believe that openly discussing these topics in a public forum is a worthy contribution to the business of wine. Pinot noir is a grape that has led many regions to fashion tastings and seminars like this one, and New Zealand’s four day long meet-up provides a unique opportunity to discuss the larger issues surrounding wine that are often overlooked by other events. After all, discussing what makes great pinot is not necessarily a bad thing. In the quest to improve, tackling such weighty topics is a noble pursuit. Hearing Matt Kramer’s excellent presentation, for example, on his suggested goals and aspirations for pinot producers will provide food for thought and conversation for days on end.

Check out some of our favorite Kiwi pinot producers at JJ Buckley Fine Wines:The main reason for the event, however, is the unique opportunity to sample New Zealand’s top pinots in one location. On show this year are wines from 2010, a problematic vintage that has seen considerable variation from a quality standpoint. Regions like Martinborough and Nelson have suffered in comparison to their neighbors, presenting wines that have grippy tannins and noticeable acidity. Marlborough and Central Otago, on the other hand, have shown wines that balance their acids – the hallmark of the vintage, with just the right amount of fruit. These areas have made the most exciting wines from this challenging vintage. Look forward to more information about these wines in an upcoming report from JJ Buckley. In the meantime, I’m off to taste some older vintages to see how they’re aging. Tough job, but someone’s got to do it…

2007 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Eaton Vineyard
2008 Mountford Estate Pinot Noir
2009 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
2006 Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir
2009 Huia Pinot Noir