This year marks the 22nd vintage at Pegasus Bay in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury. Husband and wife winemaking team Mat Donaldson and Lynnette Hudson can rightly claim to know something about the vineyards and conditions of vintage in this Valley.
That doesn’t stop them from trying new techniques or tweaking existing ones to get the best results they can from their Pinot ferments.
The amount of whole berries in a ferment can significantly alter the resulting wine, as tannin in Pinot comes mostly from the seeds, and whole berries act as a buffer against the alcohol acting directly on the seeds. Excessive tannin in Pinot can be detrimental as it “supresses” aromatics. Alternatively, a 100% whole berry ferment can result in Pinots too light in colour, flavour and structure. The trick, therefore, is to get just the right percentage of whole berry in a ferment depending what the season offers.
Despite their experience Mat & Lynnette have learnt not to make assumptions about a given season, and they admit they have been caught out by this in the past. Instead, they do early vintage ferment trials for their Pinot Noir, about 650kg for each trial.
This year the berries look small. So the assumption would have been that there is a high skin to juice ratio, and potentially a high seed weight, leading to more tannin in the wines. They tested the theory at the very beginning of vintage by harvesting a small amount of Pinot Noir at a lower brix, added yeast (all of their ferments are normally natural) and didn’t include any cold soaking.
They created three trial ferments:
- ‘Must pumped’ resulting in a majority of broken berries,
- Whole berry
- Approximately 30% whole berries.
The latter was achieved by simply de-stemming and sorting.
Even at this stage it was really noticeable that the must pumped fruit had less aromatics.
At the same time they did a 50 bunch trial measuring juice, skins, stems and seeds and will use this information as a base line for future vintages.
Mat and Lynnette then look at the samples, and make a decision about which way to ferment for the rest of the vintage. In 2011 they used a combination of 50% must pumped fruit and 50% whole berry. This season 30% whole berry seems to be the answer so they’re simply rotating fruit onto the sorting table after de-stemming and then dropping it straight into the fermenters.
It’s an interesting process and much discussion ensues, especially when aided by the appearance of a special guest star such as Canterbury winemaker legend Danny Schuster!
It’s a reminder that great wine evolves and changes, and that those who make it are continuously learning.
You can meet Mat & Lynnette at Pinot Noir NZ 2013 next year in Wellington- 28th to 31st January.