Pinot Noir: the most challenging cultivar of them all
Although a delicious, fruity, light wine – the Pinot Noir grape is so delicate due to its sensitive skin that burns easily; making fungus and rots a very real threat. On top of that, Pinot Noir doesn’t offer as much yield as other varietals – which is another challenge on its own.
But, any wine-lover can tell you, when a Pinot Noir in the glass and on the lips, it makes all these challenges oh-so-worth-it. So if Pinot Noir is so challenging, where are the best regions to grow it? Cool climate regions offer Pinot Noir the best environment – as it’s less likely to burn and it keeps the acidity at a good level. Any region that is close to the ocean is ideal – the closer the better.
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Elgin in South Africa
Elgin is the coolest wine region in South Africa, only reaching temperatures of about 25°C – allowing Pinot Noir to grow perfectly, will just the right amount of acidity. Interestingly, Elgin is also the only wine region in the country to be completely surrounded by mountains – and these slopes offer different ways for the grapes to develop and mature.
The Pinot Noirs in the region is grown in different soil – heavy red clay, sandstone, shale and Caoline clay. It should come as no surprise then that because of the low yield and the cool climate – the Pinot Noirs from this region are extremely fruit-forward and with highly concentrated flavors.
Martinborough in New Zealand
Martinborough is known as New Zealand’s most exciting Pinot Noir region. The Pinot Noirs from this region have been listed in the Top 100 World Listings, being recognized by several international wine-writers.
The terroir and climate is partly the reason for these wines’ successes: stony, limestone and clay soils are predominantly found in the region. The tremendous amount of rain throughout the year ensures a cooling effect on the vines – allowing Pinot Noir grapes to reach their needed potential. Average temperatures don’t reach much higher than the early twenties – allowing the grape to ripen slowly and perfectly.
Burgundy in France
Burgundy is considered the best place in the world to be growing Pinot Noir – and so it is being done. It is in fact, so ideal for growing Pinot Noir, that Pinot Noir from this region is simply called Red Burgundy.
This region has over 400 different types of soil, but the predominant ones are a mixture of limestone and clay. The Temperatures vary with summers in Burgundy being warm and the winters freezing. It is said that the region’s coolness is just right to allow the grapes to ripen – sometimes, barely making it.
Tasmania in Australia
Tasmania’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a small island just off Australia. The constant ocean breezes that surround the area regulates the temperature to a maximum of 26°C and allows for the perfect, cool environment for Pinot Noir.
Tasmania does also have gusty winds and chilling colds – but similarly to Elgin – the vineyards are sheltered by mountains in the area.
Although Tasmania’s wine production is extremely low compared to the rest of Australia, the conditions here are on point for Pinot Noir – with all the right combination of clay, limestone and sandstone soil to ensure the Pinot Noir grapes develop exceptional quality.
Valle d’Aosta in Italy
Way up north, almost touching the French border, we can find the scarcely populated Valle d’Aosta region. The soil in this area is extremely rocky, forcing the vines to fight to survive – this, in turn, creates some powerful and high-quality vines.
The temperatures here are warm and dry – but the cold nights allow a good balance and opportunity for Pinot Noir to flourish.
Although this region does produce some stunning wines, the production is extremely small and it is quite a find if you are able to get your hands on a Pinot Noir from this region.
Russian River Valley in California
The Russian River Valley was one of the first regions to be formally recognized as an “American Vinicultural Area” and is known to produce some of the world’s most loved wines. This region is cooled by the Pacific Ocean Breeze – as well as a fog that settles in the area most nights. Apparently, without the appearance of this fog, the area would be too warm and dry for the growth of cool-climate wines like Pinot Noir. The summer temperatures here can climb to a scorching heat – but due to a hill that runs down the region, most of the vineyards fall in a shaded area and stay rather cool. In the area that isn’t shaded and the temperatures are hot, other cultivars are planted and flourish.
Willamette Valley in Oregon
Oregon, especially the Willamette Valley, has some of the most interesting soil of any region: A combination of rich, fertile Volcanic and sedimentary soils. The formation of this interesting soil combo is due to three reasons: Firstly, this region was once completely submerged by ocean water; volcanic eruptions that occurred as well as melting glaciers that created valleys in this region.
As you can imagine, this unique soil plays a major part in giving the Pinot Noir from this region unique characteristics.
Oregon temperatures stay rather cool throughout the year, with coastal breezes keeping it under control.
Patagonia in Argentina
Nestled in the most Southern tip of Argentina lies the beautiful region of Patagonia. Although the Patagonia region receives extremely low rainfall during the year, there are man-made canals from the 17th century that captures the rainwater that is used by the vines.
The dilemma that most Pinot Noir grapes have concerning rot is almost non-existent in this region due to the constant, strong winds that this area encounters – it makes the growth of rot impossible. The temperatures of the region, in summer, are on average about 23°C and there is almost constantly sunlight – but the effects are counterbalanced by the cooling wind.
The importance of this article is to show the importance that terroir and climate play in the development of a vine and essentially, a wine. It’s obvious that Pinot Noirs prefer a cooler climate to truly reach their full potential. With a cool ocean breeze and some tough soil, this varietal does some incredible things. Check out our overview of how to become a certified sommelier.