Grapevine Archive for Central Otago

In his third guest blog for Society Grapevine, Paul Pujol (winemaker at Central Otago’s Prophet’s Rock) looks at riesling’s perennial image problem…

How is it that the most beautiful, erudite and alluring aromatic wine in the world keeps getting jumped in the next big white variety queue?

Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris have all had a turn – now, they are not exactly the ugly sisters but it still doesn’t seem fair. When will the wine drinking public notice the gorgeous wallflower in the corner (chatting with her bohemian friend gewurztraminer)?

'Why won't anyone talk to me?'

I have quizzed a number of people about this state of affairs (read, I won’t shut up about riesling) and there are some interesting theories.

Many are quick to blame riesling’s dodgy past (who hasn’t got one of those) of watery acidic bulk wines and brushes with substance abuse at the hands of some greedy industrial wine producers. This did undoubtedly happen, albeit 20+ years ago, and left consumers with a hangover it seems they are still getting over.

The upside of this tarnished history is that producers have put an enormous amount of energy into rebuilding the quality and image of riesling. Now, in any given price category riesling will invariably offer the best value for money.

This is also due to the fact that winemakers love riesling and when talking with them it quickly becomes evident that it gets a disproportionate amount of love, care and attention in the vineyard and winery. In fact, several friends in the industry have pointed out that they don’t actually want riesling to become fashionable so that it remains a bargain for those in the trade.

Another factor that causes consumers to hesitate in choosing riesling is that like any true beauty she can carry off a wide range of styles. From mouth-watering dry styles to some of the most opulent, poised dessert wines in the world, this makes for a bit of confusion when facing a selection of riesling. Again, producers have responded to this by moving towards very clear labelling with regard to the sweetness or lack of in their wine. For our riesling, we try to make this blindingly obvious by putting it on the front label – Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling.

So, having put those issues to bed we are running out of excuses as to why riesling shouldn’t finally take off. A fantastic food wine, a refreshing terrace wine, relatively low alcohol, the list of reasons to give riesling the time of day goes on… I also thought that if I write ‘riesling’ enough times in this post, that subliminal messaging might work too.

I’d love to hear your views on riesling, good or bad. Rant away: I just did.

Paul Pujol
Winemaker, Prophet’s Rock

Categories : New Zealand
Comments (2)

In his second guest blog for Society Grapevine, Paul Pujol gives us a Central Otago perspective on the subject of terroir.

I was recently asked to write a piece for an Asian wine event on the concept of terroir in relation to our Bendigo Vineyard, home of Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the below is what I came up with.

Paul Pujol at the Bendigo Vineyard

Paul Pujol at the Bendigo Vineyard

Do you think wines from Central Otago are starting to show a sense of place beyond just the region, or is it too early to say? I would love to know readers’ thoughts on the subject.

How to pin down the unique combination of environmental and human factors that define our vineyard’s terroir? Quantify every element in the soil, every breath of wind, every drop of rain, every ray of sunshine, add each vine’s unique structure, then combine all this with us and everything we do? It seems impossible.

We simply think of it as Our Very Small Corner of the World.

Let me take you to our Bendigo Vineyard. Firstly, head south, a long way south, to the southern-most wine growing region in the world. Here, on the 45th parallel, you will find yourself in spectacular, mountainous Central Otago.

In this semi-continental climate, unique in New Zealand, is the sub-region of Bendigo. Our vineyard is located on a high terrace, 120 metres above the valley floor. Our elevation is 320 – 382 metres, which means cool nights, yet our steep north-facing slopes intercept loads of sunshine. This means we easily get our grapes ripe, but retain good acidity at the same time. Our picking dates are several weeks behind those of the vineyards just a few minutes’ drive down the hill.

The soils in our Bendigo Vineyard are a fascinating mix of quartz, bands of different-coloured clays, and a layer of chalk about a foot thick lying 60 to 100 centimetres below ground. There is a lot of schist: ground-up in the soil, as rocks and also in the form of an enormous house-sized boulder in the centre of the vineyard.

We love this site and we do the best we can in the vineyard to produce fruit which reflects our special place. Crop loads are kept very low. We practise sustainable viticulture and make our own compost on site. In the winery, use of native ‘wild’ yeast, very gentle extraction and extended élevage are features of our vinification.

Our goal is a wine that is a true reflection of our vineyard, our very small corner of the world. But that’s enough description – taste our wines and catch your own glimpse of our terroir.

Paul Pujol
Winemaker, Prophet’s Rock

Categories : New Zealand
Comments (0)

Members will have drunk many of Paul Pujol’s wines over the last decade – he has made wine at Kuentz-Bas in Alsace, Lemelson in Oregon and now back in his homeland at Prophet’s Rock in Central Otago. Making small lots of pinot noir (including the excellent Mount Koinga, which he crafts exclusively for members), riesling and pinot gris, the style of his wines perfectly balance old-world complexity with new world generosity. In the first of his guest blogs for Society Grapevine, Paul gives us an engaging report on Central Otago’s 2011 vintage.

Pierre Mansour
New Zealand buyer

At Lake Wanaka

At Lake Wanaka

When I think back over the 2011 vintage in Central Otago I find myself immediately shaking my head and wondering, ‘what the hell was that season all about?’ Depending on what part of the growing season my mind falls on, my descriptors range from beautiful, mad, too rainy, too hot, too dry, too cold, just right, heavy cropping, low cropping, awesome, worrying, tense and relaxed…

Perhaps I should start at the start and you might get the idea.

After a pretty warm end to winter in Central Otago (and a good ski season) spring really took off with a bang. October and November 2010 were easily the hottest I have seen in Central Otago. It felt like every day was over 30°C and my kids were swimming in Lake Wanaka in October – usually a ridiculous idea until at least January. We therefore experienced very rapid spring growth and a very successful flowering of the vines. This ultimately meant two things – one, we had ‘locked-in’ an earlier than normal harvest and two, that potential crops could be quite high in certain sites due to quite sizable bunches of grapes.

All well and good you say. Then came December, where the temperatures dropped, the wind arrived and the weather became more variable. Although the wind was a little annoying (more canopy management) everyone was pretty relaxed and glad that the early season extremes were over. Personally I was quite happy that the high temperatures had dropped as I favour a ‘slow cook’ in terms of ripening grapes rather than a hot, fast ripening – not that I’ve ever had a say in the matter. From the end of December the weather settled into quite an alarming weekly pattern: Rain, clearing with wind, a nice day or two, wind and then the next rain front again.

Ummm, not text book stuff but at least the vines weren’t stressed and we didn’t need to irrigate. Disease pressure was a little higher than usual which meant we did a couple of extra organic sulphur sprays than normal. As the season progressed through the summer I started to receive the common question: ‘How’s the season looking?’ My response was initially, ‘well it’s the last six weeks that really count’, then as the crazy weather continued: ‘well it’s the last month that really counts’ and finally, ‘well it’s the next two weeks that are critical’ – this is when the worry kicked in.

Thankfully as we entered the harvest period the weather sorted itself out and moved into typical autumn conditions. The rain disappeared and we had calm settled weather right through the harvest period. We had successfully dodged any disease issues and our yields were right on target, time to make wine.

At Prophet’s Rock we harvested some of the best fruit I have seen from our two sites thanks to a nice finish to the season and some excellent work from our team of pickers. Any fruit that showed signs of shrivel or damage from the weather was left on the ground for the birds. They say (whoever ‘they’ are) that a vintage with character makes for wines with character – I look forward to watching these wine evolve and seeing what sort of character that will be!

Moral of the story: When you are in the southernmost wine growing region in the world, anything can happen but it usually comes right in the end. Luckily for us, pinot noir and aromatic whites love life on the edge.

Have you been to Central Otago? I would love to hear your impressions of the region and the wines.

Paul Pujol
Winemaker, Prophet’s Rock

Categories : New Zealand
Comments (0)
Mon 30 May 2011

Gold for Society’s Exhibition Pinot

Posted by: | Comments (1)

Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is the world’s southernmost wine region. This mountainous inland area is at the very limit of cool-climate grape growing and certainly isn’t for faint-hearted winemakers. Getting grapes to ripen this far south is a constant battle and, unlike the rest of New Zealand, the climate here is continental rather than maritime with a high risk of devastating frosts in the critical early autumn ripening period.

So what grape do they choose to grow here? Surely something hardy and reliable? No. They grow pinot noir, one of the world’s most recalcitrant grapes.

Why such apparent foolhardiness?

Because – when they get it right – the breathtaking voluptuousness of texture and the exquisite intensity of fruit of Otago’s best pinots makes all the effort worthwhile.

The Society has long been a champion of regional diversity in New Zealand, and we decided to celebrate this by bottling three different versions of Kiwi pinot to highlight the differences, and quality, of the wines from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough under our Exhibition label.

The Society’s buyers work hard to ensure that the wines in this range are always flagship examples of the regions and styles that they represent. For the Marlborough wine we went to local experts Villa Maria, and to Craggy Range for the Martinborough.

Craggy Range’s winemaker, Master of Wine Steve Smith, also buys in grapes from other regions and told Society buyer Pierre Mansour about a special plot of vines in Otago. It is these grapes that make The Society’s Exhibition Central Otago Pinot Noir.

We were delighted to see that the 2009 vintage of this wine won the top prize, a gold medal, at this year’s International Wine Challenge.

A fitting reward for all that effort.

Categories : New Zealand
Comments (1)
Mon 07 Jun 2010

Central Otago 2010 Vintage

Posted by: | Comments (0)
Harvesting the 2010 vintage at Prophet's Rock

Harvesting the 2010 vintage at Prophet's Rock

Here is an excerpt of an email sent to me today from Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock, one of New Zealand’s outstanding pinot noir winemakers, on the 2010 harvest in Central Otago. We will be tasting the whites later in the year and the reds when they have completed their maturation in barrel (sometime next year).

“Another vintage is officially in the bag – after finally harvesting a small block of Pinot Gris on Tuesday up at the Bendigo vineyard. The early signs are that this will be a strong vintage from Central Otago. Early in the season it seemed this would be a cooler and later picked vintage but as the season progressed harvest predictions kept coming forward, ultimately we picked in mid-April – very much a ‘normal’ picking time. Weather over harvest was perfect and the fruit was in excellent condition.”

Categories : New Zealand
Comments (0)