Friday, March 07, 2014

Vintage 2014 Continues / Part 4

Time to concentrate on Pinot Noir (Vitis vinifera cv Pinot Noir).
I think most 'wine people' agree it's a finicky grape to grow and a difficult one to make into good wine.
The traditional home of Pinot Noir is Burgundy. The French name translates as black pine cone reflecting the shape of the bunches and the compactness of the berries.

A combination of a cold continental climate, limestone based soils and viticultural practices honed over centuries allows the Grand Cru (and lower classifications ) wines made there to demand some of the highest prices paid for red wine world wide. The 1987 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits currently has an average price of $A18,000 / bottle!
Pinot Noir has been cultivated in France since AD 100 and is probably only one or two generations removed from the wild Vitis sylvestris ie. a direct domestication.

 However many other places, including the new world, also grow the grape successfully and make excellent wine out of it eg. north western states of the USA, South Island of New Zealand, Victoria and Tasmania in Australia.
Pinot's thin skins and low levels of phenolics produces mostly lightly colored, medium bodied, low tannin wines. When young, the wines tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wines age, they have the potential to develop vegetal and farmyard or forest floor aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine. It is the tremendously broad range of bouquets, flavours, textures and impressions that make good Pinot Noir so sought after.
As mentioned in other posts our little vineyard has a warm maritime climate with ancient sandy/alluvial based acid soils over clay which is the complete antithesis of Burgundy.
The vines grow extremely well here but most of the time the fruit quality suffers from the heat and the humidity ie. low colour and tannins, high pH, little varietal aroma and flavour, no potential for aging.
But occasionally, if the weather gods are with us, we strike it lucky and get a good crop of reasonable fruit.
This vintage just might be one of those.

Pinot Noir is particularly prone to mutation and thanks to its long history in cultivation there are hundreds of different clones in vineyards and vine collections worldwide. More than 50 are officially recognized in France alone. A clone is a vine which has exactly the same genetic make up of the cultivar but exhibits different properties eg. growth pattern, yield, fruit quality, bunch structure, drought resistance etc. And of course resultant wine quality.
These differences are noted in vineyards and vines with desirable differences are propagated asexually from them eg. cuttings. Following considerable testing, growing and wine production trials, clones with commercial potential are then offered into the market place.
In Australia, Pinot Noir clones include MV6, 114,115 and 777.
We grow MV6 here.
MV6 has an interesting history.
James Busby, considered the father of the Australian wine industry, made a trip through Spain and France in 1831 and kept a meticulous record of the vine cuttings he collected on the way.
363 of these survived the trip to Sydney, packed in moss, sand and soil, and were planted in the Sydney Botanical Gardens where they unfortunately eventually died through neglect. But by that time many cuttings had been taken from the collection and spread around the countryside eg. South Australia, thus initiating the still flourishing wine growing industry.
In the 1920s, Maurice O'Shea, the renowned Hunter Valley (2 hours north of Sydney) winemaker who had had considerable Burgundy experience traced, through the Busby collection, a source of Pinot Noir vines (thought to be from Clos Vougeot in Vosne Romanee) and planted them at his Mount Pleasant vineyard.
McWilliam's Mt. Pleasant Vineyard today

With these vines he produced his famous straight varietal Pinots and blends with other varieties eg. Shiraz.
After O’Shea’s death in the 1960s, the true value of these French Pinot Noir vines was realized.
New South Wales Director-General of Agriculture, Graham Gregory, singled out the vines as having significant genetic importance and worthy of inclusion in a vine propagation scheme setup at the time. Gregory took cuttings off the Mount Pleasant vineyard to setup a special grapevine collection, naming the particular clone as MV6 (or Mother Vine 6).
Now the Hunter Valley climate is basically the same as ours although the soil composition is generally different.
But it was a good enough reason to give MV6 'a go' here.
So with all this preamble, following 3 days of light but persistent rain and relative humidity percentages in the high 90s, we decided to harvest our Pinot Noir on the 3rd March. Fruit was in excellent condition with only a small incidence of botrytis. The affected berries were removed from the bunches by hand during picking.
Sugar level was 13.5 deg Baume and pH 3.45.

We have read extensively on the different ways to make a better wine from this grape but based on this summary from UC Davis decided to go with a reasonably straight forward approach ie. crush and destem, ferment on the skins, press and drain after one week's extended maceration, settle, rack off fermentation lees, egg white fine, rack.
Fermentation started in 12 hours. Cap punched down every 4 hours.
Oak treatment was with some French oak mini staves that I had found secreted away which were added at the fermentation stage.
Meanwhile the Tempranillo was racked on the 1st March and 30ppm SO2 added.

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