edited by Sue Courtney
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Central Otago, New Zealand
The arrival of the Pisa Range Estate 'Black Poplar' Pinot Noir 2000 from Central Otago onto the market and the arrival of the destructive microscopic grape vine pest, phylloxera, into Central Otago, came at about the same time.
The wine was a welcome arrival so I opened it and poured a glass. As I sipped I wondered why this outbreak of phylloxera had happened. After all, the pest has been here since at least 1885. Any new winegrower should hopefully seek advice when planting a vineyard. Even if an area is claimed to be Phylloxera free, can it be a "phyllo-zero" zone forever? It seems to me that with increased planting's, sharing of machinery, no border controls and wine tourism a favourite pastime, it was inevitable the pest would eventually arrive.
I looked at the wine in the glass. It's a medium depth pinky-red colour. Then I took a sniff. At first it has a slightly feral nuance but swirl the glass and a floral fragrance is revealed.
I took a sip. It's just so gorgeously smooth in the palate with delicate spice, savoury and underlying power. Mushrooms, black cherry and cranberries combine together with a lift of mulled wine-like citrus, indicating plenty of long term potential, then a powerhouse finish comes on leaving citrus and violet characters to linger in the mouth with that elusive savoury character that pinotphiles the world over seek.
I mused over the phylloxera issue.
The Hawkers, who own the Pisa Range Estate, say their vines are on their own roots rather than the phylloxera-resistant rootstock that is essential in most other New Zealand wine regions. How long would it take the pest to travel from the plagued vineyard on the outskirts of Alexandra, up the Clutha to Cromwell and 10 kilometres along State Highway 6 to the Pisa Range Estate Vineyard in the lee of the range it takes it name from? The Hawkers say as part of their long term planting plan, they had already factored in the planting of grafted vines. They are now working with the Central Otago Grapegrowers Association to stop the spread.
Joe Corban of J.A. Corban and Family Nurseries, one of the country's major vine suppliers, says there are two reasons growers choose ungrafted vines. Firstly it's a supply issue; with a rapid increase in vineyard planting's demand simply could not be met. Price may also come into play - grafted vines cost between $5 and $6 whereas ungrafted cuttings cost about $1.50.
Back to the wine. It's good. It's very good. It's made by one of the best - Rudi Bauer - who used fruit from this vineyard in his award winning Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 1999.
I find the bottle a couple of weeks later. There's still some dregs in the bottom. It smells a little oxidised and the colour has darkened but the wine is still drinkable. It's taken on a licorice complexity with an earthy richness. A bit like old Burgundy, really.
With wines like this it not surprising that Jancis Robinson, in her "Concise Wine Companion", names Central Otago as one of the up and coming wine regions.
Find out more about Pisa Range Estate at www.pisarangeestate.co.nz. And while you are there, check out the mail order price of this wine. At $34 a bottle it seems like exceptional value to me.
© Sue Courtney
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