Discovering New World Pinot Noir

Every March, I head up to the coast to Santa Barbara for World of Pinot Noir. For anyone who loves Pinot Noir, this is THE event. There are Pinot Noirs from around the world, each expressing the place where they are from. And, a seminar led by Elaine Brown focused on discovering some of these places which I wrote about in California Winery Advisor and am sharing here.

Pinot Noir is a wine that inspires many wine lovers. It is a grape that has cultivated a massive following. It is a wine that is pale in color with aromas of cherry, cranberry, raspberry, mushroom, tobacco, cola, licorice, clove and vanilla. It garners praise from around the world and some of the most highly prized wines in the world are Pinot Noirs.

The idolized grape is well-established in Burgundy, France where it is defined by terroir. With a long history of producing Pinot Noir, the French understand what terroir means. They understand each of the vineyards and how they taste and leave the nuanced tastes to vintage variation and winemaker style. But, in the new world, while we know that Pinot Noir grows best in cooler sites, what do we really know about Pinot Noir in the New World.

One of the best ways to get a perspective is to taste Pinot Noir from around the world. Pinot Noir is the 10th most planted grape variety in the world and is grown in California, Oregon, Chile, and New Zealand, as well as Germany, Italy, Australia, Argentina and South Africa.

At the 19th Annual World of Pinot Noir, a gathering of Pinot Noir producers and Pinot Noir enthusiasts, journalist Elaine Chukan Brown moderated a panel with Brianne Day of Day Wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Erica Crawford of Loveblock from New Zealand’s Marlborough and Central Otago regions, James Ontiveros of Native 9 from California’s Santa Maria Valley and Rodrigo Soto of Ritual Wines from Chile’s Casablanca Valley. With the common goal to make wines of place, these four winemakers shared their perspectives on Pinot Noir and what their regions offer.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley AVA was approved in 1984. The Willamette Valley AVA, defined by the watershed for the area, is a very large AVA but is surrounded by the Cascade Mountains to the east, Coast Range mountains to the west and lower hill chains to the north of the valley. The vines are planted on lower hillsides and protected by the surrounding mountain ranges.

Day Wines is a natural wine producer focused on single vineyard Pinot Noir. Winemaker and owner Brianne Day sources fruit from farmer-owned vineyards and is able to express the uniqueness of sub-appellations of the Willamette Valley. Day works with fruit from the McMinnville AVA, located on the west side of the Willamette Valley and extending south towards the mouth of the Van Duzer Corridor, Oregon’s lowest Coast Range pass to the Pacific Ocean. The soils are marine sedimentary loams and silts, as well as basalt. The vines sit in the protected weather shadow of the Coast Range mountains and benefit from the drying winds of the Van Duzer Corridor. Day also works with the Van Duzer Corridor AVA, an opening in the Coast Range in which the ocean winds funnel into the valley and create a cooling effect.

The area is slightly cooler than other areas of the Willamette Valley and the wind keeps the vines dry. The Yamill-Carlton AVA is located north of McMinnville in the foothills of the Coast Range. Protected by a rain shadow from this range as well as the Chehalem Mountains and the Dundee Hills, the soils are quick draining ancient marine sediments.

Santa Maria Valley, California

One of the oldest grape growing regions, the Santa Maria Valley became an AVA in 1981. The Santa Maria Valley is the most northern appellation in Santa Barbara County.  Only 20 miles from the coast, the Santa Maria Valley is a very cool growing area.

Native 9 is a label by James Ontiveros, the ninth generation of his family to farm in the Santa Maria Valley. James planted the Ranchos Ontiveros Vineyard in 1997. The Native9 wines are sourced from all eight clones of Pinot Noir grown in that vineyard. The vines sit at a 700-foot elevation and the soils are windswept sandy soils over sandstone. The grapes are organically farmed, minimally irrigated, hand picked and whole cluster fermented.

Central Otago, New Zealand

Central Otago is New Zealand’s most inland region, located in the southern part of the South Island. The region is entirely circled by mountains and the climate is semi-continental. It is very dry with a lot of sunshine and short, hot summers. The vineyards are planted at elevations from 200 feet to 1000 feet high and the soils are made up of windblown silt and schist.

Loveblock Farm Wines was started by Kim and Erica Crawford in 2015. Focused on organic production, Loveblock is based in Marlborough, where they produce Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris and other grapes. They purchased a vineyard in the Bendigo subzone Central Otago in 2008 to grow Pinot Noir. The Bendigo is a warmer area that see more rain and the soils are free-draining sandy loam over schist cobbles.

Casablanca Valley, Chile

Chile is a long and skinny country located between the ocean and the Andes, a wide, rugged and rough mountain range. The Casablanca Valley is located 60 miles north west of Santiago and is an east-west oriented valley. While the valley is located closer to the Equator and therefore warmer, a cold current comes up from Antartica, cooling the region, making this coastal region suitable for Pinot Noir.

Ritual Winery comes from Veramonte Winery, an estate established in 1990 when less than 100 acres of grapevines were planted in the area. Ritual Wines are made exclusively from selected plots from the organic vineyards in Casablanca where the soils are composed of decomposed granite soils.

Wrapping Up | New World Pinot Noir

From Oregon and California to Chile and New Zealand, winemakers are looking to make Pinot Noirs that taste like the place they come from. The climates and soils are contributors to this, as are the winemakers’ sustainable and organic approaches. Explore Pinot Noir from the New World and you will discover that each place and each producer has a story to tell.

Read the original story in California Winery Advisor.