The Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification?

 

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). 

  Central Otago Wairarapa Marlborough Waipara Other
Five Star Felton RoadMt Difficulty Ata Rangi      
Four Star Craggy Range1b

Peregrine

Pyramid Valley2

Rippon

Craggy Range1

Dry River

Escarpment

Martinborough Vineyard

Pyramid Valley2 Bell Hill

Pegasus Bay

Pyramid Valley2

Craggy Range1,4
Three Star Bald Hills

Hinton Estate

Mount Edward

Two Paddocks

Valli

Palliser Estate

Schubert

Cloudy Bay

Dog Point

Villa Maria

Wither Hills

Mountford Valli4
Two Star Amisfield

Chard Farm

Gibbston Valley

Olssens

Quartz Reef

Rockburn

Voss Auntsfield

TerraVin2b

Envoy3

Seresin

Alan McCorkindale Neudorf
One Star Carrick

Lowburn Ferry

Pisa Range

Mount Maude

Prophet’s Rock

Tarras

Wild Rock1

Wooing Tree

Alana

Murdoch James

Te Kairanga

Gladstone

Johner

Julicher

Ma Maison

Pond Paddock

Wild Rock1

Foxes Island

Gravitas

Huia

Hunter’s

Nautilus

Spy Valley3

Blind River

Delta

Jackson

Te Whare Ra

The Ned

Vavasour

  Kumeu River
Total 25 17 21 5 4
PN as % of Region 78% 53% 12% 22% na 
Total  NZWG Producers 109 (23%) 63 (27%) 137 (15%) 60 (8%) 297

Notes

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.

 Omissions?

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.

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6 comments
  1. Max said:

    Great blog and very glad I stumbled on it. Great issues, great writing style. Keep it up and will be following with great interest.

    • Hi Max. Appreciate the feedback and feel very humbled by your kind words.

  2. Hi Hugh. We’re delighted to be mentioned on your blog. Reality is the commercial volumes of our wines were only launched in November 2009 although we did have tiny volumes in the market the year prior. But we haven’t started to get wines in front of the Australian press (ie Tyson). However we are just about to announce our Australian distributor and will get our wines in front of the right media very soon.

    We have been very lucky with media accolades for our wines with the new releases which were reviewed by Bob Campbell (www.bobswinereviews.com) scoring 90plus points. We have a great site and of course, one of NZ’s most accomplished winemakers, Olly Masters!

    I shall be interested in how this list evolves as well!!

    Misha
    Misha’s Vineyard, Central Otago, New Zealand

    Anyway, thanks for thinking we were missing off this list. We’re flattered.

  3. Hi Misha, all I can say is keep up the good work and we will see where you sit next time around!

    All the best
    Hugh

  4. Hi Hugh,

    Thanks for your detailed and balanced commentary on our classification.

    Your regional analysis is particularly interesting. Central Otago has ascended the ranks in recent years as winemaking skill has increased and vines have developed some maturity. Wairarapa has been the most stable of the regions, maintaining strong representation at the top end. Marlborough is really establishing itself as a serious Pinot player, and while it is not represented at the very top end (and Pyramid Valley has now regrettably lost its Marlborough fruit), it may be only a matter of time before its estates reach this territory. Waipara is the real zone to watch, and if its top estates continue on their current trajectory, they may well tip into Five Star territory in another vintage or two.

    In total, there were some 65 estates that made the list this year. This represents about half the estates whose wines we have assessed. We consider one star to be a strong endorsement.

    As you know, our classification is based on an average assessment of the five most recent vintages. Estates which are performing well now, but which were not producing wine of the same standard (or not producing wine at all) five years ago, are ranked accordingly. Only the estate wine from each vineyard is considered. An estate’s inclusion is based wholly and exclusively on the standard of its wines and not on any other factors.

    Thanks again for your stimulating discussion.

    Regards,

    Tyson Stelzer.

  5. Tyson

    Many thanks for your comments and input. I feel I should reiterate my admiration for the effort and thought that went into the classification. I have gone to the effort of trying to piece together some sort of comparison using the published reviews of a couple of well known local critics. It is a long bow to turn that into something directly comparable but, as you might expect, there were a handful of differences (shall we say “mutual omissions”) but a whole lot of rankings that were srikingly similar. (I do not intend to publish this as I found too many gaps in the data available to me to feel comfortable presenting any form of conclusions). More importantly, it became clear to me just what an effort you and Matthew had to put in to complete an exercise like this – let alone the fact that you had tasted the wines and I was merely indulging in a data manipulation exercise.

    I should just note a couple of other points you make. Of course I listed wineries according to multiple regions in a handful of cases, an approach that is not relevant in hindsight given the approach of classifying only estate wines.

    Another comment that particularly interested me was that regarding Marlborough. My impression is that the transformation of Marlborough as a pinot noir region has been closely related to the changes in site selection. However, I also note that many of the earlier Marlborough pinot noirs were grown by contract growers turned into wine producers. The grapes were perhaps (and I may be accused of overgeneralisation) treated like other grapes rather than with some of the more specific care and practices required for good pinot noir. In recent years the move has been to the hills and to warmer exposures, to soils with a clay component, and to management more often by the winemaker (or by the company producing the wine) than in a simple contract grower relationship. Of course it is some of the more interesting vineyards that now need the vine age.

    Finally, and in part reflecting on your comments regarding vine maturity, see my comments in the post “The Age of Pinot Noir”.

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