New Zealand pinot noir, although not blessed with the centuries-old history of some of the great wines of the world, is one of the country’s most well-established varieties.
Marked for decades by great wines from many still-respected estates like Ata Rangi, Dry River, Pegasus Bay and Neudorf, it changed little until the late 90s and early 2000s when blockbuster fruit-driven and powerful styles emerged from the Central Otago region. NZ wine has continued to evolve over the past decade and a half and even bastions of the classic styles like Martinborough and North Canterbury have seen a shift towards a more ‘current’ style of pinot noir.
What has changed, and what has contributed to this evolution?
New clones? At one stage, clonal material was considered the great new hope but as vines have matured and settled into their environs, this has proven to be less significant than had previously been assumed. Some vignerons, like Wilco and Dry River and the team at Pyramid Valley, believe that the rootstock vines potentially play an even more important part, as New Zealand does not yet have the right rootstock vines to suit limestone soils and low-yielding terroirs.
At 20-30 years of age, our vineyards are approaching adolescence and the resulting wines are also changing. The fruit is tempered with complexity and subtlety – not just from the vineyard but in the winery. Confidence in winemaking and a better understanding of their grapes have allowed winemakers to exert a lighter hand with less new oak. These are generally less extracted wines with lower alcohol and more elegant, complex structure due to improved viticulture and the influence of organics.