Terroir in New Zealand

Anyone who does not believe in terroir in the New World should have come to the Circle of Winewriters tasting of Central Otago Pinot Noirs, which compared different cuvées from Felton Road and Two Paddocks. “I remember when people were not convinced that regions of New Zealand show differences,” says Nigel Greening of Felton Road, “but now we see differences even between vineyards.”

The tasting displayed Central Otago’s versatility by starting with two whites. The Riesling came from Two Paddocks. “I planted Riesling because I wanted to make a white wine and Riesling is the only white grape that succeeds in Central Otago,” says Sam Neill of Two Paddocks. He allowed an exception for Felton Road’s Bannockburn Chardonnay, which followed. Central Otago whites show a tendency towards exotic fruits: Pinot Noir is more successful, in my opinion.

Central Otago is still going through the argument of whether the best wines come from assemblage from sites with complementary properties or from single vineyards. “We are working with two different approaches to Pinot,” says Sam Neill, describing the differences between the Last Chance single vineyard wine and the Two Paddocks bottling. “One comes from a tiny vineyard in a corner. The other is an estate wine, it’s a blend of our best lots.”

Two pairs of comparisons certainly made the point that there are real terroir differences here. From Two Paddocks came the First Paddock and Last Chance 2010 Pinot’s. First Paddock comes from Gibbston, more or less the central part of Central Otago (“always the most perfumed,” says Nigel Greening), while Last Chance comes from the most southerly vineyard in the Southern hemisphere, according to Sam Neil. “There are no grapevines between here and the penguins,” he says. The difference was somewhat like the rusticity of Pommard versus the sheer refinement of Volnay.

The difference between Felton Road’s Cornish Point and Calvert vineyards 2012 was equally striking. Both have wind-blow loess, but Calvert has heavier soil, whereas Cornish Point has a calcareous subsoil. There’s also difference in wind exposure. “This is a descent into hedonism,” says Nigel of the Cornish Point. I would actually describe the wines differently, as I find the Calvert to have more obvious weight and tannin, while the Cornish Point gives a refined impression almost of delicacy. Here is a sense of finesse that quite sets the lie to the notion of boisterous new world fruit.

My own preference is for those wines that display coolest climate impressions, Last Chance from Two Paddocks, and Cornish Point from Felton Road. “Central Otago is growing up. It was known for its fruit bomb wines but I don’t see that here; there’s expression of place in these wines,” says Nigel Greening.

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