As Pinot Palooza prepares to announce its 2020 dates, the mastermind behind the hugely successful festival, Dan Sims (below, left), discusses Australia’s favourite Pinot Noirs.
It may come as no surprise to people, but I like Pinot Noir, a lot.
It is the grape variety that excites me the most and, frankly, disappoints me the most. When it is good, it is mind-blowing, but when it’s bad, it’s well … expensive.
But one bad experience doesn’t make you throw your hands up in frustration and move on to another grape or style. You always head back again, and again to chase that Pinot rush.
It also tends to be a variety that you discover a little further down the road on your wine journey, and rarely ever will it be the first wine you ever taste. For me, it was very much like that. Trying to get your head around styles, nuances, and the impact site and maker have on the wine are significant. But you know that already, don’t you?
I’ve worked as a sommelier for most of my career and helping people understand what kind of wine they are after, not what I want them to like, is a philosophy at the core of hospitality. One I still adhere to today.
I learned about wine from going to as many tastings as I could and listen to panel after panel of (generally) older men telling me what I didn’t or should know. It was how I was taught at the time; Masterclass by Masterclass.
In 2012, somewhat frustrated by this, I ran the first Pinot Palooza with little more than a rough idea of wanting a festival full of incredible wines and producers to celebrate the diversity of the variety with examples, primarily, from the New World.
Yeah, a wine party.
There was not, nor has ever has been, mention of ‘5 star’ ratings or ’95 points’ in any of our wine lists or communications. It is deliberate attempt to democratise people’s opinion on what they were tasting. In short, get out of the way and let them decide.
So the only thing we asked is for them to pick their favourite producer on the day. I whole- heartedly believe if someone can figure out what they like, understand why, and then tell somebody; they are three-quarters of the way there. The rest, you can read in a book or learn in a Masterclass.
Pinot Palooza has always been about getting some of the best producers of the New World to come together in collaboration, not competition, to celebrate everything about this great grape. It has also allowed guests to taste, discover, and better understand the multitude of wines styles, producers and regions they like so next time they’re in a wine store or restaurant, there is at least a baseline for them to start a conversation.
As a result, we’ve been able to see trends unfold, and preferences shift from year to year, and 2019 was no exception.
Pinot Palooza by the numbers
In 2019, Pinot Palooza visited 12 cities and five countries and attracted over 15,000 attendees on event days. Overall, there were 515 different examples of Pinot Noir on tasting throughout the tour by 209 producers in 34 regions and eight countries. Epic.
Out of the total number of producers, 75% received votes. This is awesome as it shows diversity of style within a single variety is a good thing. Everyone has a different opinion on what makes excellent Pinot Noir, and that is the point.
60% of our audience are women and 60% under the age of 35, with the percentage of women increasing to 65% in the age group mentioned above. The future isn’t female; it’s now.
Further to this, the average RRP price of a bottle of Pinot Noir was $45 with each person who joined on the day spending at least $57 on wine. What was that about Millennials not spending money on wine?
What this data does give us is a snapshot in time of trends, personal preferences and more. Sure, this may be only from event days, but these results are based on more votes from a Morgan Gallup poll.
So who took the big prize this year?
They had a tremendous year taking out the city prize in Wellington and Brisbane as well as podium finishes in a few more. Bravo to them!
Previous winners have included Akitu in 2018 (Central Otago), Moondarra in 2017 (Gippsland) and Vinteloper in 2016 (Adelaide Hills) that shows an impressive variety of winemaking approaches as well as regions.
Australia’s favourite Pinot Noirs
The Top 10, listed below, is a bloody solid list of Pinot Noir producers represented. Bravo to all.
- Craggy Range (Martinborough, NZ)
- Akarua (Central Otago, NZ)
- Moondarra (Gippsland, Vic)
- Charteris (Central Otago, NZ)
- Dog Point (Marlborough, NZ)
- Ashton Hills (Adelaide Hills, SA)
- Henschke (Adelaide Hills, SA)
- Burn Cottage (Central Otago, NZ)
- Pegasus Bay (North Canterbury, NZ)
- Ghost Rock (Tasmania)
And what region came out on top from the 34 represented on the day?
Double drumroll …
For those more traditional Pinot Noir drinkers, this may come as a surprise but not to us; we’ve seen this coming. Last year alone, four out of the top ten wineries were all from the Adelaide Hills, and the overall quality and diversity of wines from there have been on a rapid rise. Not only that, they ‘turn up’ and put on a good show.
The Hills were closely followed by (in order) Central Otago, Yarra Valley, Tasmania and then, encouragingly, Gippsland. Again, showing a broad range of styles, climate and wine personalities.
One question does come to mind. Are the more familiar Pinot Noir regions resting on their traditional market share laurels?
What is true is there is an incredibly motivated, younger, wine audience who have never before been more interested in what they imbibe. Not just seeking new styles, producers and personalities, they want to know more about how it’s made, what goes into it and, arguably the most important, the environmental impact.
I say that, again, the environmental impact.
But that’s a conversation for another time.