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A Short history of Pinot Noir........

Pinot Noir is one of the oldest vine grape varieties known and was named by the noble Pinot family after the pinecone shape of the grape bunches. Pinot's been cultivated in Burgundy since the 1st century AD. One legend has it arriving in Burgundy via the Aedui from their invasions of Lombardy and Italy. Another legend has it arriving via the Romans while other tales refer to the Romans finding Pinot already established in the region. With the Barbarian invaders driving the Romans from the region, the Catholic church inadvertently became custodian of the fine Pinots. The monks used Pinot Noir in their sacraments and hence gained approval for the wine. They improved the varietal through careful vineyard practices and by the 6th century, most of Burgundy was divided into church owned vineyards. The first documented mention of Pinot Noir in Burgundy doesn't occur till 1345. French monks brought the grape to the Rheingau region where it's been cultivated since 1470. Church owned vineyards were seized and distributed to families in Burgundy during the French revolution around 1789 resulting in an independently owned and run vineyard model that still survives today.

Burgundy is home to Pinot Noir. Within the Burgundy region, a 30-mile long by 2-mile wide stretch of land known as the Côte d'Or (Slope of Gold) consistently produces some of Europe's finest Pinots. This strip has ideal chalky, well-drained soil, good sunlight exposure with above average temperatures and gentle slopes. All characteristics you'll also find in Australia's top Pinot Noir growing regions. Wonderful Pinot Noirs come from all over the world. It's grown in many countries and is known by different names in different countries. Some locations and names include:Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria (called Blauburgunder or Spätburgunder), Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Germany (Spätburgunder), Greece, Hungary, Italy (Pinot Nero or Blauburgunder), Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland (Clevner, labeled "Dole" when blended with Gamay Noir), the United States, and Yugoslavia (Burgundac). Pinot is a difficult grape to work with. It's hard to get a consistent, great Pinot and the problem starts with the plant. Pinot Noir is genetically unstable. A parent plant can produce a plant with wildly different berry size and shape and even flavour. Cabernet Sauvignon has 12 genetically individual clones but Pinot Noir has up to 1,000 possible clones.

Pinot Noir seems to pick up every known vine disease, mould, fungus and/or pest. It's an early ripening variety so spring frosts are devastating. Pinot Noir at The Gurdies has budburst at the end of September, veraison (when the grape changes from green to purple) end of January to early February and we harvest anywhere from the end of March in a hot season till the end of April in a cold season. When picked too late the thinskinned berries will shrivel up and lose all flavour. Extracting all the colour is another challenge. When fully ripe, the Pinot Noir berry is a very light purple colour and requires careful handling to make the most of the light colour.

Pinot Noir goes through a range of changes as it matures. A young wine will show simple fruity characteristics including: cherry, plum, raspberry and strawberry. The complex flavours emerge as it ages revealing chocolate, earthiness, smoke and truffles. Only Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier grapes are permitted in sparkling wines from the Champagne region. Around the world other varieties are used to produce sparkling wines but Pinot Noir is a key variety anywhere in the world.

Pinot Noir has many close relatives in the grape world. The best known include:
Pinot Bianco or Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc in Australia is really Chardonnay while in the United States some Pinot Blanc has been identified as Melon de Bourgogne. The French Alsace region is the best known home for Pinot Blanc. The wines produced are light and yeasty with an apple nose. Some names Pinot Blanc/Bianco hides behind in other parts of the world include: Beli Pinot, Clevner, Weissburgunder, Weisserburgunder, and Weisser Klevner.
Pinot Chardonnay is often used to describe a Chardonnay. Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Beurot all refer to the same grape. The name comes from Gris, being French for gray from the grayish colour of the grape. The wines range from light, crisp and dry to full and sweet. Other names for this grape around the world include: Auxerrois Gris, Pinot Buot, Rülander, and Szükerbarát.
Pinot de Romans or Pinot de l'Ermitage is another name for Durif and it isn't a member of the Pinot family
Pinot Meunier is really Meunier and is not a member of the Pinot family
Pinot Nero is just another name for Pinot Noir
Pinotage is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut from South Africa. First bred in 1925, it is now widely grown in South Africa as well as the United States and New Zealand.

* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans

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