The Publication of Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer’s 3rd “Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification”, originally launched at Pinot Noir 2010, has already stirred some attention. Aside from the requisite bravery for putting such a classification system into print (see it as posted at http://www.matthewjukes.com/?p=452), the initial response from what I have read seemed to be that there were only 3 five star awards.
The fact is that such classifications will always court controversy. You can never get everyone to agree on such things, especially when issues of style are also a factor in most people’s reckoning.
I have taken the step below of extending the simple classification into a set of regional sub-classifications. It seemed to me that this would be interesting in terms of the rankings within each region and also in terms of visualising the equivalent “competition” in other regions.
Note that where a winery produces wines from multiple regions I have included the name in each. The reasons for presenting the names regionally are to more transparently assess the numbers of representatives from each, and from the perspective of degrees of influence to see how the names are clustered in each region. (Anyone familar with the 1855 Bordeaux classification will be aware that St Julien, for example, is well represented among the deuxieme crus, while Pauillac has a significant “over-representation” among premiers and cinqiemes but “under-representation” in between).
Another sub-plot that may be worth pondering is the relativity of average vine ages in each area and among the producers named. It may be worth checking, but it would be a surprise if Martinborough/Wairarapa does not boast the highest average vine age (despite the more recent development of the Te Muna Road sites).
|Five Star||Felton RoadMt Difficulty||Ata Rangi|
|Four Star||Craggy Range1b
|Pyramid Valley2||Bell Hill
|Three Star||Bald Hills
Te Whare Ra
|PN as % of Region||78%||53%||12%||22%||na|
|Total NZWG Producers||109 (23%)||63 (27%)||137 (15%)||60 (8%)||297|
1 Craggy Range and Wild Rock are related companies and both draw on fruit from Martinborough and Central Otago (1b including Calvert Vineyard).
2 Pyramid Valley makes Pinot Noir wine from grapes grown on the home vineyard in northern Canterbury plus Marlborough and Central Otago. (2b The Central Otago fruit is from the Calvert Vineyard and the Marlborough fruit is from the TerraVin site).
3 Envoy is a separate premium label from Spy Valley.
4 Craggy Range and Valli also make wine from Waitaki Valley fruit.
If there are ever going to be arguments, aside from how high or how low some producers will be classified, most interest will often centre on omissions.
In some cases the omissions may be on account of the fact that the wines have not be tasted at all, or on far to few occasions. In other cases the wines may simply not have made a comparable impression, and this element of taste (or of the condition of individual bottles) must be respected.
However, it is worth contemplating the fact that there are several omissions that have either garnered a good reputation over some time or that have accumulated string reviews and awards within a shorter time period. Central Otago may well be a significant beneficiary in future, with the potential to further cement dominance of the list given the progress made by the likes of Mount Dottrel, 25 Steps, Domain Road, Brennan, Remarkable, Surveyor Thomson, Misha’s Vineyard, Van Asch, Waitiri Creek, Grasshopper Rock and Wild Earth (and I am sure there may be others unintentionally omitted).
The Waitaki Valley may be new territory but there can be no denying that it is attracting attention from some talented winemakers. While it is unclear whether Craggy Range and Valli’s Waitaki efforts have affected their rankings, other notable examples include the likes of Forrest, Waitaki Braids and Ostler.
A number of Waipara and Canterbury wines might stake claims for inclusion although the big question may well be whether the exclusion of Daniel Schuster reflects the failure of the business rather than the track record of the wines ( which some would accord a high star rating) or the quality of the terroir?
The ratio of Marlborough producers will give food for thought, if not controversy. Is this a factor of the suitability of much of the soil, or else of the degree of focus of the producers (when many producers elsewhere lavish priority care and attention on their pinots)? However, it is hard not to consider that the exclusion of the likes of Fromm and Hans Herzog, not to mention some other wineries that have specifically targeted better soils and exposures for pinot noir (including, but not limited to, the likes of Astrolabe, Clayridge and others) comes as something of a surprise. One particular question worth posing is whether Pernod Ricard is excluded based on its size and range of products, not all suited to inclusion here, or whether its top line products might warrant inclusion on their own merits.
A number of Nelson producers, especially in the Moutere area, prioritise Pinot Noir and are also garnering solid reputations. Some might consider that the two star rating accorded to Neudorf suggests a cap on the ranking of other producers – that, of course, depends on the rationale for the rating given here.
In the North Island Martinborough is obviously well represented (although there are still potential claimants and some clear potential for debates over the rankings), but it is notable that the only other representative is Kumeu River from Auckland. There is no place for Millton and its Gisborne Clos de Ste Anne, or for any of the Hawke’s Bay producers, many of whom are now exploring cooler inland sites as well as the lime rich soils of cool Central Hawke’s Bay (where Lime Rock is already winning awards and good reviews).
Overall Jukes and Stelzer should be congratulated on a useful, potentially valuable and clearly intellectually stimulating exercise. Its value in particular lies in its openness to regular review, plus the fact that it creates targets for achievement and can only help in the process of raising standards across the industry. For those not included there is a clear message to work on raising profile and ensuring you earn the respect of the authors in future.