Conclusion: New Zealand’s Central Otago-Pinot Noir In-Depth

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For most Americans, only recently cognizant of New Zealand as a producer of quality Pinot Noir at all, the idea of focusing on sub-regions within a single producing region of New Zealand may seem a bit, well, premature, if not presumptuous.  Focusing on ever-smaller and more detailed subregions in the United States is a fairly recent phenomenon, and one that the general public is only just beginning to understand.  While most Americans understand “Napa Valley” or “Sonoma Valley”, it takes a pretty knowledgeable wine-lover to even recognize the existence of “Howell Mountain” or “Russian River Valley”, much less to understand (or care about) the differences in the wines from those subregions.  As for New Zealand, how many people know that there are a good half-dozen regions making quality Pinot Noir there, of which Central Otago is only one?  Does identifying and marketing wines from one of New Zealand’s regions, Central Otago—by focusing on smaller subregions within it—make sense today?

The wine community in Central Otago is clearly taking the long view.  Historically, they know that as wine-growing regions mature, and as the growers’ and winemakers’ knowledge of their terroir increases, it is natural to identify and highlight the differences that the respective terroirs imparts on the wines.  They already know from daily observation that there are clear differences in climate, orientation, and soils in the subregions of Central Otago.  After all, each subregion in Central Otago is considerably more distant from its neighboring subregion than are the subregions of, say, Oregon, Sonoma, or even Burgundy, where the various AVA’s or AOC’s essentially abut one another.  So there is nothing about the concept of subregions in Central Otago that seems forced or inappropriate to me.

At most the focus on subregions could be a case of getting ahead of the curve. The ultimate test of both the validity and, ultimately, the usefulness of subregions as a key element of the identity of Central Otago Pinot Noir will be in the bottle.  And that will take some time.  Right now, the region is full of mostly very young vines, and the wines from them are dominated by fruit-forward characteristics that tend to blur the expression of distinct terroir character.  Yet even at this early stage, I was struck by some commonality among the wines of Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Bendigo in particular.  While I recognize the possibility that my impressions were influenced by the context of good feelings generated by our exceptionally passionate, friendly and likeable hosts, I think the distinctions among these subregions are real.  It will be fascinating to see if these differences become more pronounced and clearly defined in the wines in the years to come.

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  1. 1999 Dehlinger Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Estate
  2. 2008 Cornerstone Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

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