This thin-skinned red cultivar associated with Burgundy seems to evoke passion in winemakers and wine drinkers alike. Pinot Noir has a reputation for being difficult to grow, however that same site specific nature means that it is extremely terroir expressive.
Pinot Noir is one of the most ancient cultivars with the earliest mention recorded in 1375, but with evidence of its existence stretching back as far as the Roman era, circa 100 AD. Over this time Pinot has crossed with other cultivars and is linked to over 150 descendants – many of them widely recognisable such as Chardonnay, Aligote, Muscadet and Gamay. Mutations have resulted in a large number of clones within the Pinot Noir cultivar with distinctly varied attributes making clonal selection a critical decision.
Creation uses Pinot Noir Clones 115 and 777, known as Dijon clones because they were developed by one of the world’s leading viticulture experts, Dr Raymond Bernard of the University of Dijon. Bernard was one of the pioneers of clonal selection – using specific vines of a certain cultivar that exhibited desirable properties such as resistance to pests and disease, specific yields and ripening characteristics, etc to serve as “mother plants” for new vineyards.
Clone 115: One of Dr Bernard’s original clones. Produces smaller bunches, typically with medium sugar and medium to high acidity and producing well-structured Pinots with a superior bouquet and good tannins i.e. the wine is suitable for ageing.
Clone 777: High quality clone that performs well on superior sites, producing small compact bunches and berries with slightly higher sugar than 115. Enjoys stable growing conditions such as those exhibited by the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge’s cool summers and long slow ripening. Both 115 and 777 are not susceptible to rot.
These specific clones were chosen because they are predominantly quality focussed – the yields are fairly low and they are planted throughout the Cotes du Nuits in Burgundy, where there are heavier soils similar to those on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. This results in a more structured and intense style. These clones are also adapted for quality vineyard sites, well drained sites with good aspects.
Pinot Noir characteristically produces thin skinned berries and small berry and bunch sizes. The small berries and bunches result in a lower yield with a higher ratio of skins to juice – an important factor when producing high quality Pinot. Thin skins however make the fruit susceptible to external influences – succumbing to mildew and rot in humid and wet conditions, while sunburn threatens in extreme heat. A cooler climate with plenty of sunlight and good drainage combined with judicious clonal selections are thus key to the production of quality Pinot Noir at Creation.
The delicate tannin structure of Pinot Noir means it does not necessarily benefit from extended barrel maturation. The importance of the percentage of new oak and the use of whole bunch fermentation thus takes on an important role (the stems from whole bunch fermentation, judiciously used, can add tannic grip, freshness and spice).
Pinot Noir is also unique amongst red wines as it cannot be corrected. When making a Merlot for instance, it is considered acceptable to blend in a small Cabernet Sauvignon component to add complexity or perhaps tannin. Pinot Noir however is so delicate as to exclude the possibility of blending – rather than enhancing the wine it would destroy it.
Flavour Profile and Food Pairing
With flavour profile of fresh red berry notes, blueberry, cranberry, subtle spices and vanilla when young, Pinot Noir evolves an astoundingly complex earthiness of truffles, mushrooms, dried fruit and exotic spices as it ages. The thin skin makes for subtle, elegant tannins and the naturally high acidy ties it all together in a wine of considerable poise when correctly executed.
The delicate tannins in Pinot Noir allow it to pair to seafood successfully compared to heavy red wines – tuna, salmon and trout are all especially good pairings. Pinot Noir’s subtle earthy flavours are enhanced by mushrooms – better yet truffles, while the freshness typical of good Pinot is excellent against the richness of duck. Sweet wine is not necessarily the only option for dessert with Pinot Noir and Turkish delight or a cheese platter the perfect end to any meal.