It's time to stop relying on science if you want to make great pinot noir. That's the message that Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer gave to delegates at the Pinot Noir 2013 wine conference in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday.
Kramer controversially declared that truly great pinot noir is currently produced only in Burgundy.
“Burgundy has something that no other pinot region has achieved," he said. "In Burgundy, two plus two equals five. How did they get that other one? How did they find it?
“The challenge is not to get two and two equals four anymore. It's been achieved in New Zealand, it's been achieved in Oregon, it's been achieved in the Mornington Peninsula. Twenty years ago, no one would have thought such a thing would be possible.”
Kramer alerted his audience to the “stunning uniformity and homogeneity" of pinot noir wines being produced these days, and blamed the planting of a small number of clones – such as 667 and 777 – in the world’s vineyards, along with the increasingly common practice of green harvesting.
“What results is wines that lack nuance, wines that lack shape ... They are simply too uniformly ripe and are made from too few clones. There are not enough voices. If great pinot noir is an orchestra, this is an orchestra made entirely of cellos. No piccolo, no double bass, no violins, no brass or woodwind. We have now reached a structural wall.”
In the future, Kramer said, vineyards should contain at least 20 to 40 different clones interspersed randomly, “like a field of wild flowers,” to create heterogeneity. He also called for an end to the reliance on the popular Dijon clone. In his view, the resulting wines would be more harmonious and complete.
“Your orchestra will surely have piccolos in it – grapes that are under-ripe. Your orchestra will have double basses and bassoons – grapes that are over-ripe. The majority of your orchestra will fall into the middle range of the properly ripe. All this requires a willingness to step back and let greatness happen. You cannot control for greatness. You have to let greatness happen and it is found in the shadows.”
“If you insist on science and rationality as the only guidelines to creating great pinot noir, you will never get past four,” he insisted.
"Jurassic Park" and "Alcatraz" star Sam Neill, a Central Otago pinot noir producer, followed Kramer at the podium. Only partly in jest, he awarded the wine critic 84 out of 100 for his speech.
At a later session, Michael Brajkovich MW, winemaker at Kumeu River, defended New Zealand's use of science in its modern wine industry, which is barely 40 years old.
“We have taken advantage of science because we have not had time [unlike Burgundy]," he said. "It will take time to have the confidence to put a mixture of clones [in the ground].”