Grapevine Archive for Paul Pujol

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
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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
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