Cheers! It's International Pinot Noir Day (again)


International Pinot Noir Day (18 August) is just one excuse to celebrate with a lovely drop of New Zealand pinot noir.

Pinot noir grapes form Central Otago. Credit: Maude, Wanaka
Intense, expressive, and fruit-driven, the pinot noir grape has found a southern home in New Zealand, and while International Pinot Noir Day (18 August) is the perfect time to celebrate this notoriously fickle grape – connoisseurs agree that any day is good. 

Wind the clock back 30 years and pinot noir was barely known, let alone grown, in New Zealand, but today it is the country’s leading red wine export, and second largest export overall.

Although first planted in the Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa regions of New Zealand’s North Island in the 1880s, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the popularity of the pinot noir variety started to bloom, this time much further south in Central Otago. 

According to wine experts, New Zealand pinot noir is fruity, softer and more expressive than the wine produced in this grape variety’s original home of Burgundy. 

New Zealand pinot noir is predominantly grown in the cooler southerly regions – Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury and Central Otago – and the diversity of each terroir delivers a wide range of styles.
Still considered the new kid on the block due to its rapid rise to fame, New Zealand pinot noir is now the country’s top red wine variety and the second-most exported wine after Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Impressive growth in export sales over the past five years means more than 1.5 million cases of New Zealand pinot noir are exported annually.

For visitors who want to try a drop at source and learn more about New Zealand wines, there are more than 260 cellar doors with over 500 winery experiences in several regions.

That’s where they might learn the intriguing tale of how a vine cutting from the renowned Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vineyards in Burgundy made it to New Zealand. 

The Abel Clone, snipped from a vine in the Domaine, was smuggled into New Zealand in a boot only to be intercepted by an Auckland Airport Customs Officer, who also happened to be a winemaker. When Malcolm Abel realised where the vine cutting had come from, he sent it to the government viticultural research centre to be properly processed. Eventually, when the first cuttings were released, Abel planted them. That vineyard no longer exists but Abel’s cuttings have been shared far and wide, and the Abel Clone is recognised as the foundation of some of New Zealand’s top pinot noir drops. 

Central Otago – Pinot Noir central

A spectacular landscape and popular tourist hub, Central Otago is also home to some of the world’s most well-known pinot noir and is the world’s southernmost wine region. Central Otago Pinot Noir is fragrant, lush fruit underpinned by taut structure, silky texture and true intensity.

Easily accessible through Queenstown Airport, Central Otago is the perfect place to cosy up to the fire with a glass of pinot noir. Soaring snow-capped mountains and glistening rivers nestled deep within ravines (gold rush territory in the 1800s) draw visitors from far and wide, with a wide range of excellent cellar door facilities and wine tourism activities in the region.

Central Otago cellar doors
Check out our Guide to New Zealand Wine Regions
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