I once heard it said that if you want your heartbroken make Pinot Noir. I think the wine’s delicacy is a thin veil over vineyard quality and skilled management. Winemakers repeatedly give people the impression that Pinot Noir is one of the hardest grapes to grow and produce. How true is this? Is Pinot hard to make? I don’t think so, with caveats.
As a plant physiologist turned winemaker, I tend to strip understanding of a thing down its core then build up from there. Pinot Noir is still a grapevine like any other grapevine and there are certain vineyard aspects that we know contribute to higher quality wine: cool-ish climates (cool relative to normal ripening temperatures for a variety – cool for Syrah is warmer than cool for Pinot Noir), free draining soils, avoiding climatic extremes, etc. These all apply to Pinot Noir and if you find yourself in a vineyard with these broad characteristics you are more likely than not to produce quality fruit. And with Pinot the basic axiom for all quality wine is true: great fruit can be ushered into great wine.
Beyond these basics, it has been my experience that Pinot is quite easy to work. Flavors arrive in the grape early and taste great, it tastes great when fermenting, tastes great when
aging, isn’t as prone to stinky/savory notes like Syrah that need time in barrel to resolve, doesn’t tend to go through “dumb” periods in barrel or bottle, and generally requires little intervention. Making Pinot doesn’t require frequent handling and intervention; it really is a watch and wait wine.
But if we believe in democracy, don’t we believe that the majority is correct at least some of the time? And if so, then why do so many people think Pinot is hard to make unless it is actually difficult to make? As noted above, I think the answer is that Pinot’s delicacy is a thin veil over site quality and deft management. You can be exposed – and thus heartbroken – very easily by Pinot Noir. This is for a couple of reasons. First, true believers in Pinot tend to hold the wine in such high regard because when it is great it is ethereal. All of the best wines of my lifetime have been either red or white Continue reading