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Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2019

Mel Brown got everything she was hoping for and more at The Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2019 which has established itself as a premier event on the international wine calendar. Each year this three day events hosts more than 200 people from across the globe, converging in one of the most dynamic and spectacular wine regions of the world.

Mel was lucky to attend seminars, tastings, winemakers lunches and dinners and experienced a first hand account of a region that is so often referred to as a true Burgundy rival in Pinot Noir production. Here is what Mel had to say about this wonderful event:

Our first seminar of the event was an in-depth understanding of the history and evolution of Central Otago Pinot Noir, which was highlighted in 4 very distinct phases.

1987 – 1990 was phase 1.0 – the initial plantings in the area were at Black Ridge, Rippon and Gibbston Valley  – these pioneers highlighted the fact that most land in Central Otago was suitable for planting with many varietals in deed being planted in the early days. 

Central Otago 2:0 quickly came along, a second wave was introduced and the hype began, spanning the years 1991 – 1998, the area had grown tenfold and Pinot Noir was accountable for ⅓ of production. This phase was still very much an area of discovery and throughout this time the list of other varietals that had been planted were starting to diminish – the ‘hype’ was very much alive and was now headed toward ‘goldrush’ status. Blair Walter (from Felton Road) told a tale of when James Healy (Dog Point / Cloudy Bay at the time) came to Felton and tasted a barrel of 1999 Sauvignon Blanc, his exact words on tasting;

“That’s not cats pee, that’s elephants piss!” 

It was an explosive time throughout phase 3:0 1998 – 2008, where plantings climbed to more than 1500 hectares. The first Dijon clones were planted in ‘98 and the region began to develop a deeper understanding of their wine production and the quality of the wines that could be produced there.

We were extremely fortunate to taste through a range of wines in the “Discovery Tasting” where a panel of extreme experts guided us through the wines. The Panel: Blair Walter (Felton Road) Jenn Parr (Valli) Emma Jenkins MW, Sarah-Kate Dineen (Maude) and Mike Winter. The wines showed well and as they were all from different sub-regions within Central Otago, it allowed us an opportunity to see the evolution of winemaking and wine growing across the region.

Pick of the tasting

  • 2015 Aurum Mathilde
  • 2010 Felton Road Bannockburn
  • 2016 Valli Gibbston

The Grand Tasting

We were invited to the barrell hall at Amisfield winery in Pisa sub-region where 4 hours was spent uncovering 40 producers (of which they were allowed to show only 2 Pinot’s each). This particular tasting was well thought out, informal and provided a very good insight to the 2017 vintage. It gave me a wonderful sense and understanding of how far this region has come, the fruit forward expressions from a few years ago have made a grown up transition to create a style that is more refined, concentrated and honest.

I’ve always loved how the wines from Central Otago offer such a distinctive character profile, and it feels the understanding of their cultural identity through their Central Otago-Burgundy exchange as well as their commitment to maintaining an honest connection to their land is testament to their humble attitudes and quality wine. Nick Mills of Rippon stated the exchange was built on sharing and balance creating energy across both regions. Over the 12 years this exchange programme has been running – more than 100 winemakers have attended stages across these regions, a phenomenal way to embrace the old and new world cultures and balance.

Today (phase 4:0) more than 2000 hectares are planted with 1500 of them being Pinot Noir making this a much easier phase. Winemaking techniques have been better applied, technology is so much more advanced and playing a much more integral part in our wine production. There are plenty of new developments every year and with new phases comes the next generation of winemakers – Jasper Morris MW summed up the session by stating “Central Otago producers are very eloquently sucking up the new blood”

A hugely inspiring, insightful and rewarding 3 days uncovering the very exciting future of Central Otago and diving deeper into its culture and philosophies. What a wonderful region to honour and what an honour to be invited.

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