A couple of decades ago, few believed that making great pinot noir outside of Burgundy was possible. Today Burgundy still holds the mantle for the most complex, elegant and sometimes ethereal expressions of pinot noir, but most people would agree that New World competitors are catching up.

To date, much of the limelight has been hogged by New World producers in New Zealand and Oregon. Last year, Craggy Range, for example,  picked up the prestigious ‘Wine of Show’ trophy in the 2010 Tri Nations Wine Challenge with their 2008 Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir from Martinborough. (Typically only the best wines from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are submitted to the highly respected Tri Nations competition.)

But what about the profile of Australia pinot noir?  Well, given that only 2.6 per cent of land under vine in Australia is devoted to pinot noir, it has probably already garnered a good deal more attention and respect than expected over the past decade.

The paucity of pinot noir plantings in Australia is due to a number of factors. First of all, no-one would argue that it isn’t one of the most challenging varieties in the world to grow. Correct site selection is absolutely essential (see Burgundy: Its about the Terroir), and the dedication of a patient, talented winemaker is almost an equal first. For these reasons, only brave, risk-taking smaller producers have typically been game to embrace the pinot noir challenge.

One of the pioneer of Australian pinot noir, Gary Farr of Geelong’s By Farr, has certainly demonstrated that when the right ingredients come together, the results can be outstanding. The well drained, low fertility soils over limestone of his hillside vineyards could have been lifted right out of Burgundy. Gary spent 13 vintages at Burgundy’s Domaine Dujac before planting his French clones and rootstocks in 1994, in the process gaining exceptional first-hand knowledge of how the best Burgundy is made. His Sangreal Pinot Noir and Tout Pres Pinot Noir are both highly admired for their fruit depth, structure and length.

Given that pinot noir demands a cool-climate, the Victorian wine regions of the Yarra Valley, Gippsland, Macedon Ranges, Geelong and the Mornington Peninsula are proving the best mainland Australian terroirs for pinot noir. Tasmania is also making great progress.

For an interesting account of the history of and current thinking about Australian pinot noir see Sarah Ahmed, The Landmark Tutorial 2010: Australian Pinot Tutorial, no Usain Bolt but fast catching up with the very best, The Wine Detective, 4 Februay 2011.

Next: Age-Worthy Australian Pinot Noir

Photo Credit: By Farr/farr Rising vineyard