Pinot Noir

By Lisa Rowlands

One of the world’s most widely planted varieties, Pinot Noir performs best in cooler climates with limestone-rich soils and excellent drainage. Notable successes outside of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or include parts of Germany and Switzerland, the Central Otago region of New Zealand and Sonoma County, California - where despite seemingly warmer conditions, the effects of the maritime climate help to moderate temperatures and maintain perfect growing conditions.

It takes only an elementary understanding of the French language to determine that the name of this grape alludes to its appearance - Noir (Black) describing the grape’s colour, and Pinot (Pine) making reference to its tightly clustered bunches having some resemblance to a pine cone. An ancient, early-ripening variety of unclear origin, the grape is believed to have been cultivated in Burgundy since the 1st century, however its first documented mention does not occur until the mid 1340s.

Notoriously difficult to cultivate, the Pinot vine has often been likened to a temperamental teenager - wanting, even needing it’s own way in order to yield the rich, velvet-smooth wines of which it is capable. Susceptible to overcrowding and fungal disease, and sensitive to temperature fluctuation, frost and wind, the road of the Pinot producer has seldom been straight or without obstruction. In order to preserve the grape’s charm and character, vines must be diligently tended and yields restricted, with close and careful attention paid to just about every part of the process. And the grape’s mercurial nature does not disappear with the harvest; its sensitivity to methods of fermentation continues to present challenges for the wine-maker and its unpredictable ageing makes it a menace even when bottled!