Wine Talk - Pinot Noir

Hans Herzog Pinot Noir


We managed to pull Hans out of the vineyard to get his thoughts on one of the worlds most famous Pinot Noirs. Check out his interviews below:

It seems winemakers aspire to make a style of Pinot close to Burgundy with its limestone soils. Even wine influencers tend to compare successful Pinot Noirs with their counterparts in Burgundy. How is your Pinot Noir comparing?

"Very much Jeffries Road on the banks of the Wairau River! Why compare when every great wine region is able to produce standout Pinot Noirs is distinctly different. Reflecting the terroir strongly, Pinot’s can taste very differently which makes it only more fascinating. As wine lover and vigneron, I look for typicity, balance and drinkability."

Is Pinot Noir best on limestone soils?

"Not really. Important for a pure expression of the delicate flavours, is healthy, uncontaminated soil and great drainage. Our Pinot grows on alluvial deposits, layers of sand and gravel (from greywacke stones) mixed with clay but offering excellent drainage. It makes for a minerally background, quite neutral enabling the grape variety even more to shine."

What defines a great Pinot Noir?

"For me, a great Pinot Noir expresses the typicity of the grape variety. Typically, Pinot Noir is dry, light- to medium-bodied, of lighter colour, with bright acidity and silky tannins. A delicate wine with floral aromas (violet?) and standout flavours of cherry and raspberry in its youth. What is amazing of a high-quality Pinot Noir, is its fragility and elegance but focused flavour authority.

For me, the greatest Pinot Producer was the humble yet pioneering Henri Jayer (Inventor of the cold-soak) whose wines heralded the world's most expensive wine. (Not as you may think Domaine de la Romanée-Conti). I’ve been lucky talking to this Burgundy Legend many decades ago and to savour his Pinots which remain the benchmark for my own Pinots. I love the silkiness and purity of his wines and share his belief, ‘A great wine is crafted in the vineyard; not in the cellar’."

What are the best winemaking practices for Pinot Noir? What about destemming, whole-bunch pressing and extended cold soaks?

"Jayer always destemmed his grapes in contrast to habits of other growers in Burgundy that even today let stems go through the crusher when vintages do not provide enough tannins. This has the side effect of adding tannins with more green and bitter character. Instead, he invented a technique called cold-soak, a pre-maceration avoiding spontaneous fermentation by keeping the grapes cooled around 10 °C for 1-4 days. The aim is to extract more fruit, complex aromas, colour, less harsh tannins and add more nose to wines. That’s what I practice with all my wines. I have never been fond of over-extracted wines, as too much tannins can make the wine astringent and unbalanced, lacking liveliness and drinkability."

It said great Pinots are unfined and unfiltered, why?

"Again, it comes back to the quality of the grapes. There is no need to fine (the aim of clarification and stabilization of a wine with a fining agent) nor filter (the removal of solid particles from a wine) from hand-picked ripe and immaculate grapes. We rack the wine once and the remaining clean lees only adds to the silkiness of the wine. Fining and filtering are controversial, as it is recognized that minimum intervention is the best approach since every time wine is handled and processed, comes with a loss of quality. The best approach is to let nature do the job by settling, as it will, given time."

Are the best Pinots in New Zealand grown in Central Otago?

"There are wonderful Pinot Noirs coming out of Central Otago, one of the few regions in New Zealand closest to a continental climate. When we searched for the ideal climate, I avoided a continental climate as I had to deal with its implications in our Swiss vineyards. It often comes with a shorter growing season due to late frosts in spring and early frosts in autumn. Summers can be hot with temperatures over 32℃ when ripening comes to a stop to protect the plant. It made for more fruit forward Pinots but lesser age-ability. Marlborough offered a moderate maritime climate with a long growing season, beautiful Indian summers, and the famous cold nights responsible for the amazing flavour expression and bright acidity in wines. It allows us to grow a Pinot Noir with a more subtle, authentic fruit profile that suits our European palate more. We recently opened a 2005 vintage, 18 years young, still wonderful and that without excessive sulphur to keep it fresh." 

Why are good Pinot Noirs expensive?

"Inexpensive, high-quality Pinot Noirs are almost non-existent. The fashionable red burgundy grape can produce divinely scented, gorgeously fruity expressions of place. However, is sensitive to the size of crop. Low yields, much attention in the vineyard and careful handling in the cellar followed by maturing the wine in high quality barrels make good Pinots an expensive wine. Great flavours start in the vineyard from healthy physiological ripe grapes at low yields followed by unadulterated wine making for balanced wines. It is cheaper to “cheat” during the winemaking process like extracting free-run juice and leaving residual sugar to make the wine appear richer, softer, and giving the appearance of fruit sweetness. Using cultured yeast and nutrients to achieve the desired flavours instead of labour-intensive vineyard work saves thousand of dollars. Grapes of lower quality need to be fined and filtered and winemaking must be accelerated as time is money. That’s when wines become expressions of wine makers but have nothing to do with any terroir expression or typicity of a wine."

Click here to look through our current vintages of Pinot Noir. 


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