In the 16 years since it began, Pinot Noir NZ has become one of the most important wine events in New Zealand’s calendar. We take a look at what makes it special.
by Erin Ogilvie
In the 16 years since it began, Pinot Noir NZ has become one of the most important wine events in New Zealand’s calendar. Originally every three years, it now runs every four, with this year’s jam-packed calendar running from 31 January to 2 February. The website describes it as “a virtual road trip throughout New Zealand, discovering provenance in a nation of pinot noir producers … navigated by world class keynotes, cutting edge opinion and robust discussion”.
When chatting to Executive Officer Rachael Fletcher, she said they’d had unprecedented demand for tickets this year. “It sold out much earlier and we’ve sold more tickets than ever before.” Tickets went on sale last March and they reached their 500-person target by August – no small task at $2070 NZD per ticket. “It’s a testament to previous events,” she said.
Held in humble Wellington, notoriously described by The Lonely Planet as ‘the coolest little capital in the world’, the event brings big business with four of their main hotels completely booked for the weekend. “We also have ten restaurants involved as well as the local craft beer industry. The event is not only about highlighting the quality of our Pinot Noir, but showcasing Wellington,” Rachael said. “It’s an opportunity to dig a little bit deeper and show everyone what we’re about as a nation.”
So why create an event named after a single variety? “Winemakers who fall in love with Pinot Noir have a bit of resilience as it’s such a finicky little grape. They’re fun and push the boundaries, and they’re up for the challenge. There’s incredible diversity in New Zealand’s Pinot Noir, and every producer has an individual story. We want to show how that comes through in the wine. It’s all part of the flavour of the event.”
Their tastings feature an impressive 117 wineries from the eight New Zealand wine regions, and every session uses Riedel’s Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass, which was chosen from a line up by the organisers. “The wine and the glass go hand-in-hand,” Rachael said. “When we showcase the best Pinot Noirs in New Zealand, we want to be able to pour them into a glass of excellent quality that lets the wine speak for itself.”
And while Pinot Noir is the shining hero of their events, it isn’t the only variety on show. “Pinot Noir is obviously the vehicle that we use to carry the message out to the world, but it is also an opportunity to talk about the greater wine industry, and New Zealand as a country. We want delegates going away understanding our country's connection to us and our connection to country."
Rachael started working on the event just over two years ago and is now excitedly awaiting the event she’s been planning since 2014. “The event has certainly grown significantly since it started, and really has done its job at putting New Zealand Pinot Noir on the worldwide stage,” she said.
“The event has reached a level of maturity, and we are talking about a bigger picture. Historically we used to compare our Pinot to Burgundy, but now we’re in the position where we stand on our own two feet. We have an excellent product that’s winning significant accolades across the world. We don’t feel the need to compare them to other countries any more.”
You need only look at their line up of speakers to know this is true. Take Jancis Robinson, one of the most respected wine critics who chose wines for Queen Elizabeth’s cellar, or Kenichi Ohashi, the world’s first Master of Wine for sake. Maynard Kennan also joins the list, a Grammy-awarded musician (from Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle) who has his own winery, as does Dame Anne Salmond, their New Zealander of the Year.
“We’ve got fantastic winemakers speaking as well as other keynotes who talk about much more than wine,” Rachael says. “It’s about our people, our culture, our community. We’re trying to demonstrate how where you’re from has an influence on who you are and what you do. We care about where we live, what we do, how we do it, where our wine comes from, how it is grown and made; it is an expression of place and the people involved.”
One of Pinot Noir NZ’s unique selling points is that their programme changes from one year to the next. “We don’t have the same types of functions or the same keynote speakers. It’s about getting the balance right between thought-provoking speakers and interesting keynotes, to providing maximum opportunities for people to taste Pinot Noir and to socialise.”
And it will be quite the party, as Rachael confirms they try to include as much quintessential New Zealand humour into their events as possible. “We take our wine seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. This is an opportunity to do things in a Kiwi way and have a bit of fun.” This includes a workshop entitled Aspiring to be kick ass, run by Blair Walter from Felton Road and Jane Skilton MW. “We want people to really enjoy themselves and get a feeling for what we’re all about and what makes us who we are.”
Riedel is a proud sponsor of Pinot Noir NZ 2017. To find out more, go to PinotNoirNZ.co.nz.