In the March edition of Decanter, Benjamin Lewin looks at whether pinot noir grown outside of Burgundy can ever match the Cote d’Or’s complex, sensual and ageworthy wines? Lewin notes that Burgundian winemakers argue that pinot noir is a grape that expresses the specificity of the place, uniformly stating: “We don’t make Pinot Noir – we make Burgundy.” (Beyond Burgundy by Benjamin Lewin MW, Decanter, March 2012)

Today, only a third of the world’s pinot noir comes from Burgundy. Germany and New World producers in the United States, New Zealand and Australia have demonstrated over the past 20 to 30 years that they are capable of making very fine, ageworthy pinot noirs, often in styles that are different to Burgundy’s but perhaps just as special and interesting in their own right?

Lewin dispels what he calls the Burgundian myth that pinot noir needs limestone soil to achieve its full complexity, noting that pinot noir from slate soils in Germany, for example, are more precise and taut than pinot noir from limestone soils, which are rounder, fuller and softer. Different, yes, but no less interesting!

Singling out “12 Pinots to challenge Burgundy, ” Lewin’s only Australian pick is Moorooduc Estate’s The Moorooduc Pinot Noir 2008 from the Mornington Peninsula. Here’s his review:

Savoury, cereal aroma. Lively black fruit palate shows purity with well-delineated, precise cherries and aromatic blackcurrants. As generally in the region, the 2008 shows more precise, tighter edges than the more overtly generous 2009.

The Wine Detective’s Sarah Ahmed argues that the top pinot noirs from the Mornington Peninsula offer the best of both worlds – “the consistent quality, fruit ripeness and intensity that we’ve come to expect from Australia, combined with Burgundian structure, complexity and balance.” (Mornignton Peninsula Special Liftout Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Tasting, Decanter Magazine June 2011 )

Moorooduc Estate’s owners and winemakers Richard and Jill McIntrye were among the first to recognise that the Mornington Peninsula’s maritime climate offered conditions ideal for growing pinot noir grapes. The cool winds off Bass Strait moderate the warm summer temperatures, insuring that the grapes retain a good level of acidity while still developing ripe fruit flavour profiles.

Fruit for the Moorooduc Pinot Noir come from the McIntryre Vineyard, where the soil is free-draining sand on clay and iron. Yet another example of how Burgundy’s calcareous soils are not necessarily a prerequisite for creating pinot noirs of great complexity!

Richard McIntrye’s style of vigneron management and winemaking, however, is quite Burgundian in character.  Since its founding in 1981, Moorooduc Estate has remained a small, hands-on family-run winery with a philosophy that advocates minimal intervention in both the vineyard and the winery.

The McIntryre Vineyard is planted to three pinot clones: two Dijon clones, 115 and 114, and one of the original pinot noir clones that came to Australia in the early 1900s, MV6. The vineyards are carefully hand-tendered with minimal use of chemicals. Wild yeast ferments have been used since 1998, and the winery is gravity fed to avoid pumping, which can damage the grapes. After undergoing a cold soak for a few days, the de-stemmed grapes are plunged two times a day during ferment, remaining on skin for 19 to 21 days. The wine spends around 12-15 months in French oak, 30% new, before bottling without filtration.

McIntryre credits clonal selection as one of the keys for creating “the greatest depth of flavour, savoury spice and structure, with all the layers of complexity, length and textural weight expected of our highest quality pinot noir.” But, of course, the other key factor, superior site selection, is equally as important in giving the Moorooduc Pinot Noir its unique character!