Cool is best for pinot noir

Pinot Noir grapes (Photo: Rex Features)

Pinot noir prefers a cool climate, and there are two ways to achieve that in Australia: go up or go south. Altitude or latitude … but which is best?

A recent tasting organized by the Wine & Viticulture Journal attempted to answer that question.

One thing the panellists agreed was that Duncan Cook’s pinots from Orange were outstanding. His Cook’s Lot Hand Picked Pinot Noir 2016 (AUD $35) and Cook’s Lot Iconique Pinot Noir 2016 (AUD $50) were two of the top four wines out of 35 tasted. The other two top wines were Yes Said The Seal 2015 (Bellarine Peninsula, Geelong region; AUD $35) and Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir 2015 (Mornington Peninsula; AUD $38).

So, two from uphill and two from down south.

The tasting comprised 20 wines from southerly locations (below latitude 37.5 degrees South) and 17 from high altitudes (600 metres or above). That adds up to 37, but two of these wines – from Hanging Rock Winery in the Macedon Ranges – fell into both camps.

Somewhat frustratingly, the tasters – three highly experienced winemakers and one university student – were unable to discern any differences between the wines that indicated either altitude or latitude. However, the scores of the winemaker judges were averaged, resulting in nine wines achieving silver medal scores, seven from southerly latitudes and just three from high altitudes. So, the southern wines had the edge.

This is very inconclusive of course, as a different selection of wines (or a different group of tasters) might easily come up with an entirely different result.

Fifteen wines achieved bronze-medal scores, and these were evenly split between the altitude and latitude groups.

Incidentally, the following vintage of Yes Said The Seal, 2016, won the trophy for the top wine at the recent inaugural Australian Pinot Noir Challenge, organized by the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association. It was made by Darren Burke from grapes grown on sister vineyard, Leura Park Estate.

Perhaps all that really matters is that pinot noir vineyards need to be cool. This is where the grape consistently produces its most defined and most detailed wines.

4 thoughts on “Cool is best for pinot noir”

  1. doug says:

    He certainly was Huon. Great pinot is made running the gauntlet of gentle, warm and humid conditions in the last two months. Warm and dry will assure you of ripe fruit but not necessarily the jewel in the crown. Risk verses surety.

  2. Duncan says:

    It is well known that Pinot is best suited to Cool Climate Regions but it further needs to be broken down to microclimates, soil, winemaking and particularly Clones.
    Latitude and Altitude correlates with temperatures thus the study.
    Orange is somewhat unique in the sense that whilst it’s classified as cool climate but the region literally has regions with in regions.
    For every 100m you go up it gets roughly .7 degrees cooler so between 600m which is the minimum to 1100m there is a significant difference. There is a huge range of styles of wines from the same varieties within the region.

    Some renowned Pinot Noir Regions that share similar effective degree days correlating with altitudes in Orange.

    850m – Yarra Valley
    900m – Southern Burgundy Beaujolais
    950m – Northern Burgundy Chamlis
    1000m – Tasmania, Central Otago
    1100m – Reims Champagne

    Chris Burke from Sons & Brothers vineyard in Orange wrote a very informative article about the different wine styles at different altitudes in Orange in the July/August 17 edition of Wine & Viticulture Journal that’s well worth a read.

    1. doug says:

      It is not just about degree of coolness. It is also very much to do with humidity. Cool dry areas do not produce the qualities that we equate with the ethereal burgundies that are the “holy grail.” You need both coolness and sufficient humidity in the critical last 8 weeks of the season. Many cool regions in Australia are very dry in the last phase, especially those where picking occurs in late Feb and March. And with pinot is also about micro sites, clones and sub regions. That said the range of pinots produced in Burgundy vary a great deal – no better example than Chambolle Musigny and Pommard. Both are authentic expressions of pinot noir! Yet very different in terms of aromatics, structure and weight.

      1. Huon Hooke
        Huon Hooke says:

        Well said Doug. When Andrew Pirie chose Pipers River to establish Pipers Brook Vineyard the humidity was very important to him. Way ahead in his thinking at the time.

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