Ahhhhhhh. Pinot noir. Just the name can make people swoon. Considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, the fickle red grape is highly sought after. It is thought of as a romantic wine that most people fall in love with. So, when the annual World of Pinot Noir weekend comes, Pinot lovers from all over the country come to celebrate this grape.
As Pinot-files, we all lust for the perfect expression of this grape. From its primary home in Burgundy, France to the Russian River, Carneros and Central Coast (Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria) to the Willamette Valley in Oregon to New Zealand (Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough), there is no shortage of world-class regions. These regions provide the perfect growing conditions for this picky grape. These cooler regions provide a long spring and fall, resulting in complex and interesting wines with aromas that range from cherry, cranberry and raspberry to earth and mushroom.
As I wandered through World of Pinot Noir, there were more than 200 wineries pouring their wines over two days. I found the Burgundy table, moved to some Santa Barbara producers, met a new Oregon producer and tasted through the New Zealand table. I could taste the various differences from region to region and was quite content.
But, then I saw a sign that said “Michigan” and another that said “Finger Lakes.” I shook my head in confusion. Pinot in Michigan and Upstate New York? Doesn’t it snow and freeze there? I quickly changed my focus and decided to explore the area of the room lined with wineries from regions that you wouldn’t expect for pinot noir production.
Australia is a large country, and probably the wine that comes to mind is Shiraz and other big red wines. But, in this big country, there are regions that due the altitude, latitude and proximity to the ocean, have similar conditions to Burgundy. Pinot Noir, that was first planted in 1995, can be found in the northern part of Tasmania as well as the Mornington Peninsula, a 30-mile long finger of land in Victoria. With water on three sides, the region has cool nights and warm days, unlike humid Melbourne that is one hour to the south.
Pinot noir can also be found in the cool climate Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne, and the high altitude (1,000-2,600 feet) Tumbarumba found in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. Lastly, pinot noir can be found in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. One of the largest wine regions in the state, the key to this region’s grape growing is the high altitude (1,200-1,650 feet) with west-facing slopes and a dry ripening season.
In Austria, pinot noir is also called Blauer Burgunder (which means Blue Burgundy). The 1,500 acres of Pinot Noir, making up 1.4 percent of the vineyards planted in Austria, are primarily found in Lower Austria. One area is the Kamptal, one of the most successful wine regions in Austria. Kamptal is a river valley with mineral-rich clay soils that produces terroir-driven wines that are elegant with savory meaty and mineral notes. Another key area for pinot noir is the Thermenregion, which lies at the same horizontal latitude as Champagne and Burgundy.
Due to it cool weather and rocky soil, Ontario in British Columbia is one of the areas best suited to produce pinot noir. In the Okanagan Valley, the second largest Canadian wine region, pinot noir makes up 30 percent of the varietals planted. The cooling effect of the lake, volcanic rock and a shorter growing season result in pinot noir with great aromatics and bright acidity.
Pinot noir is a relatively new discovery in Chile and currently makes up 6 percent of the grapes grown. A cool climate grape, it thrives in coastal vineyards where there are cool nights and warm days, similar to Oregon and Sonoma.
Known as Pinot Nero, there is less than 5 percent of pinot noir grown in Italy. It can be found in South Tyrol, the Collio, Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese, Veneto, Friuli and Trentino, all areas in Northern Italy. While Pinot Nero is used for sparkling wines in Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy, the still pinot noir from areas in Alto Adige benefit from mountain valleys, high altitudes and cool weather.
There are only 200 acres (approximately) planted in the Finger Lakes area of New York. But Pinot drinkers Tom and Susan Higgins of Heart & Hands Wine saw the Finger Lakes as the perfect climate for pinot noir. Wanting grapes that can ripen properly, they planted pinot noir in 2006. Due to high disease pressure in the winter, they hand pick, hand sort and put a lot of care into their wine and their Pinot is doing well in Upstate New York.
Located at the 45th parallel and with proximity to Lake Michigan, the Leelanau Peninsula AVA in Northern Michigan has a maritime climate with warm fall, cool springs and longs days of sun. The lack of heat in the area is made up for by the length of sun days. The pinot noirs from Leelanau Peninsula are aromatic wines with low acidity. The pinot noir vines are 10-20 years old and are just starting to pick up some depth.
Most of South Africa is too warm for pinot noir. But, along the coast of the Western Cape, pinot noir was first planted in 1976. Storm Wines South Africa is a small producer of handcrafted pinot noir. With vineyards (of clay soil) in Hermanus, located 60 miles southeast of Cape Town and 15 miles from the ocean, the wines have great aromatics.
The World of pinot noir has gotten larger. The fickle grape that we all know and love is succeeding in other regions around the world and on different continents, leaving so many new places to explore.