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CENTRAL OTAGO PINOT NOIR
There seem to be some key requirements for keeping Pinot Noir happy.
Central Otago is one of those few places in the world where all of these requirements are not only met, but where Pinot Noir flourishes and the winemakers make outstanding, internationally acclaimed wines.
A narrow range of heat summation
GDD’s (Growing Degree Days) are measured in a few different ways so numbers are hard to compare, but the way we do it, 850 – 1100 in the growing season seems to be the sweet spot for Pinot Noir. In latitude, that generally means being at about 45-47º North or 44-45º South, (the Antarctic mass makes the Southern Hemisphere a touch cooler, so the band is a little farther North there).
Large diurnal shifts
A significant variation between maximum and minimum temperatures each day. Hot days, (but not too far above 30ºC), and cool nights, develop flavour complexity. That means being a continental rather than a maritime climate, but not so far from the sea that the frosts become untenable.
long, cool, dry autumn
Hang time seems to really improve Pinot Noir. A microclimate that gets the fruit nearly ripe, then cools off and lets it hang for a while seems to add depth to the wine. But Pinot Noir is very susceptible to Botrytis, so low humidity and low rainfall in the autumn is a big plus.
A heavy but draining soil
In Burgundy, the combinations of Clay and Limestone achieve this. We have heavy Loess soils interspersed with gravels. Either way, the roots have heavy soil with good minerality and low organic matter, but don’t get waterlogged.
It might seem surprising that given such a short list, there aren’t a lot more places which fit this recipe for Pinot Noir viticulture. But a quick look at the world map shows why.
To get the diurnal shifts you need to be inland from the coast, (though the Californians get them through coastal fogs) but if you are too far in from the windward coast, the shifts get too great and frosts in Spring and Autumn get too dangerous. In the Northern Hemisphere there are only 2 continental masses: go inland on each, following the prevailing winds, from 45-47 degrees, moving eastward until the climate gets continental and you arrive at The Williamette Valley in the USA and Burgundy in Europe.
Try the same exercise in the Southern hemisphere and there are similarly only 2 land masses, one is Patagonia, where it is too windy to grow grapes. The other is Central Otago.