in New Zealand, drinking and thinking pinot noir. I went to the PinotNoirNZ three-day event in Wellington, where I was one of about 600 people, talking, drinking, tasting and philosophising. It’s always a great event: this year the themes this year were Embrace, Explore, Evolve. A number of things distinguish New Zealand: firstly, the strength of Maori culture.
One of the themes was an exploration of the word turangawaewae, which means literally the place where you put your feet, your standing place. Metaphorically, it means the place where you feel you belong, the place where you are most at home. In pinot noir terms, that means a strong attachment to the vineyard, the piece of land that matters most, that is to be cherished.
It struck me, as more and more people talked, what a privilege it is to know your ancestors, and to have land that you call your own.
There was a great deal of talk about organic and bio-dynamic vineyards. I always think that the New Zealand climate is friendlier to all of that. Bio-dynamic? Well, I think that those using bio-dynamic principles and practices have a framework to make them extremely attentive to what is happening in the vineyards. One producer talked about her commitment to the land, and her belief that she did not have the right to use poisons on the land that would go to later generations. “Poisons” in that context seems a bit old-fashioned, when I think of the chemicals that can be used in vineyards that are so precisely targeted to combat particular diseases that there are still frogs and wildflowers in the vineyards. There’s been some great work done in identifying plant and insect predators to control disease, too. But for many producers in Australia, the pressures of climate change and weather mean there are more outbreaks of things like powdery mildew.
So intense is the feeling about the special quality of particular vineyards that there is one winemaker (at least!) who is fermenting tanks in the vineyard, and relies on the wild yeasts in the vineyards. The theory is that, among other things, seasonal variation will show up most clearly in the yeasts that appear in the vineyard. Others have been identifying the yeasts in their vineyards, and are working on protecting them. They all believe that their wines show the influence of those wild yeasts. I wonder what a properly structured blind tasting would reveal.
New Zealand pinot noir is pretty special: the three main producing areas all have particular moods, I think. In very broad terms (and of course there are exceptions), Marlborough produces the most approachable wines, Martinborough more structured, more serious wines, and Central Otago produces the most intense.
My favourites? Quite a lot of them, in fact. Highlights for me: Martinborough Estate, Ata Rangi, Craggy Range, Escarpment.
PinorNoirNZ also showed how good food might be at an event. Caterer and teacher Ruth Pretty was coordinating, and structured it so that each of the three lunches was prepared by a different NZ chef, featuring NZ ingredients. The lunches were all three course, all served to 600 people within an hour and a half. My favourite was Al Brown, but all did thoughtful and clever food.
And further afield, closer to Nelson, anything from Trinity Hills – the syrah is remarkable, all depth and aroma and complexity, just lovely ones. And Craggy Range. And if you’re in the area, the restaurant at Black Barn is pretty good.