Pinot noir. A tricky grape to grow but oh, the rewards for both the winemaker and wine drinker! Pinot noir is finicky, elusive, fussy, the list goes on and on. And this is exactly why people fall in love with it. It’s not unusual to meet regular folks that have fallen under it’s spell, relocating across the country to become winemakers in an effort to harness this sensuous grape.
Done right, Pinot noir can vividly and seductively express the terroir of where it’s grown. The soil, the climate, the grapevine clone type and how it’s trellised will all affect the finished wine. In Oregon, many winemakers create Pinot noir from a single vineyard or a specific block of vines within a vineyard. This can really highlight the terroir and give the wine drinker a real sense of place.
Pinot noir grapes grow best in a cooler climate. With thin skins and tight, dense grape clusters, Pinot noir is unhappy if it gets too cold, too hot or too wet. Exposed to too much sunlight can burn the grapes and excess rain at the wrong time can cause them to mold. The grapevines need to be pruned down to one or two clusters per vine in order to boost the flavors so the wine doesn’t appear diluted. Such high maintenance can cause a grapegrower tending the vineyards to weep.
Once Pinot noir grapes are picked and safely ensconced in the winery, the winemaker must treat them kindly and be judicious with the oak. Too much contact with new oak barrels can overwhelm the wine to the point that oak is all the wine drinker can taste. There’s a fine balance between complementing the fruit flavors and masking them. Since each season presents new challenges in terms of the weather, there is no formula that winemakers can follow to ensure their wine tastes great each year.
In my opinion, that’s the best part about wine. I’m not seeking a formulaic Pinot noir that tastes the same no matter the year or the region the grapes were grown and I bet you’re not either. Pinot noir, being such a light red wine, can easily express terroir along with pairing well with most foods. I encourage you to taste Pinot noirs from all different regions and notice the differences in flavors. There’s a reason why Jack and Miles keep making trips to taste acclaimed Pinot noir in the heart of its terroir.
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