New Zealand’s Pinot Noir

In 1895 Romeo Bragato, an agricultural expert was commissioned to visit all the vineyards of New Zealand and recommend grape varieties most suitable for the terroir.

His top choice was Pinot Noir, followed by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Riesling.
His recommendation ended up in a neatly compiled report and remained inactive for over a century. In 1980’s young, ambitious and well-educated winemakers wanted to see how well Pinot Noir would grow, and decided to experiment, starting in Central Otago, Marlborough, and Martinborough, on the South Island.

While no one quite knows how New Zealand Pinot Noir will eventually turn out, all indications point to success, but only if vines are left alone and just guided to produce modest quantities of fruit.

Central Otago’s Bannockburn winery turns out a terrific Burgundy-style Pinot Noir. Climate helps – days are hot, and nights cold, ideal for Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Central Otago Pinot Noirs display intense dark cherry aromas and ripe fruit character. The complexity will come later as the vines get older. Most vineyards are 5-6 years old; hardly mature enough to reach their best production.

Marlborough, better known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, is slightly warmer than Central Otago further south. Here winemakers try to make fruit-driven Pinot Noirs, not to compete with Burgundy wines. Their objective is to produce attractive and youthful Pinot Noirs ready to drink a year or two after harvest. Some like to produce luscious wines, others prefer to be the interpreter of nature and let the wine evolve as the fruit dictates!

In Marlborough the fruit shines thorough regardless of what the winemaker does. If a thorough blending and complete creation in the winery is the objective, the Pinot Noir becomes an everyday wine of no great distinction. In Marlborough most winemakers seem to prefer the natural way of doing things.

Martinborough’s vineyards are the oldest dating back to 1979. A viticulturist trying to smuggle Burgundy Pinot Noir cuttings was caught at the Auckland airport, but somehow, the confiscated plant material appeared on Martinborough’s vineyards.

Most experts agree that this region produces New Zealand’s best Pinot Noirs, especially Ata Rangi and Dry River wineries.

Their wines have structure and astringency reminiscent of Burgundy wines. They “ burn “ brightly, but with a shorter aging potential.

Outside of the three regions mentioned above, Pegasus Bay in the Wairapa and Neudorf outside of Nelson are two areas with potential to produce large enough quantities to warrant exports.

New Zealand Pinot Noir tastes different to Burgundy, as it should, but reflects sufficient varietal character to recognize it! It would be a shame for New Zealand winemakers trying to imitate Burgundy Pinot Noirs, but this does not prevent some of them setting up shop in Beaune to sell Pinot Noir to Burgundians!

Recommended New Zealand Pinot Noir producers:

Central Otago

Two Paddocks
Hay’s lake


Villa Maria
Cloudy Bay


Ata Rangi
Dry River
Te Karainga
Martinborough Vineyard



Pegasus Bay
Muddy Water

by: Hrayr Berberoglu