Pyramid Valley Vineyards Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2009

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2009, Canterbury, New Zealand

Drunk November 2013


The winery

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Mike and Claudia Weersing came to New Zealand in 1996, when Mike began making wine with Tim and Judy Finn at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson. After a long and intensive search to find a site for their own vineyard, they purchased a farm in the Pyramid Valley, near Waikari in North Canterbury, in 2000. 

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Claudia was born in Schleswig, Germany, and moved as a child to the U.S. She has studied fashion design, and is a skilled clothesmaker. She is happiest, and most often to be found, among her vines. Claudia is a committed biodynamicist.

Mike studied oenology and viticulture in Burgundy, beginning at the Lycee Viticole in Beaune, and continuing at the Universite de Bourgogne in Dijon. He has worked extensively in the vineyards and cellars of Europe, for producers such as Hubert de Montille, Domaine de la Pousse d'Or, and Nicolas Potel in Burgundy; Jean-Michel Deiss and Marc Kreydenweiss in Alsace; and Ernst Loosen in the Mosel. He has made wine in France and in Spain for Randall Grahm of Bonny DoonVineyards, vinifying in the Rhone Valley, the Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Navarra. New world vintages include apprenticeships with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley of Australia, and with Russ Raney at Evesham Wood in Oregon's Eola Hills.

The search for Pinot Nirvana took Mike and his wife Claudia everywhere from Portugal to Australia, and he says that after an exhaustive search across NZ had turned up nothing, he was seriously considering purchasing land in Uruguay. "But that would have come with a divorce," he jokes. The discovery of a farm in a sleepy corner of North Canterbury changed all that.

Mike found the plot that would become Pyramid Valley in 2000, with "the perfect mix of soils, aspect and climate." They planted according to those strict criteria on the clay-covered limestone, at an intensive 12,000 plants per hectare spaced just one metre x 800mm apart. Mike says the clay gives "fatness, charm and weight," whilst the limestone gives "structure and precision." Everything here is foot- and hand-crushed, only wild yeasts found in each site are used for fermentation, and added nutrients, temperature control or stopping or encouraging the ferment unnaturally are anathema. From the start, Pyramid Valley has been a strictly biodynamic operation.

In their own words - "Wine to us is a genie, genius loci; our job is to coax it from its rock bottle. Every gesture we make, in vineyard and winery, is a summons to this spirit of place. Biodynamics, hand-based viticulture, low yields, natural winemaking – these are some of the means we’ve adopted better to record and transmit this voice.

All the wines are fermented with their own yeast starters, cultured every year, from the vineyard itself. These allow very long, very regular ferments: most of the whites ferment for more than a year. During this time, the wine is protected, so no sulphur is necessary. After so long a ferment, the wine is stable: thus most of the wines are bottled unfiltered, again with little or no sulphur.

Each wine is allowed to flower as it wishes. If the Pinot Blanc stops with 4 grams RS, so be it. If the Gewurztraminer ferments to dryness, that is their choice. Their friend and hero Edmond Vatan once replied when asked about malolactic fermentation, “Pwah, le malo, si ca se fait, ca se fait.”

Though Mike never mentions the term 'natural wine', there is no doubt these wines meet all of the emerging criteria for this category. Minimal use of sulphur and not controlling temperatures are aspects of that, and there is no irrigation in these vineyards.  "The wines are very forward just before bottling, but after bottling under screwcap they taper down and become tighter, and stay that way for a year or so before opening up again. But really it's all about leaving the fruit out long enough so that it does not talk about the fruit when bottled, it talks about this site."

The home vineyard has been established according to rules that Mike grew to respect and inherently to trust during his time studying and working in Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been planted, on clay-limestone soils on scarp slopes, at a density of 10,000-12,000 vines per hectare. The vineyard has been biodynamically managed from inception.

Each block is planted to reflect a specific soil type hence the somewhat irregular looking blocks. In total we have only 2.2 hectares planted in 4 separate blocks. The differences you can taste reflects the soil and climatic differences between each block, which is never more than 400 metres at most. They vinify each block and variety separately but identically in a mixture of old oak and clay amphorae so the outside influences on the grape are minimised. 

The blocks themselves were named by Claudia after the weed varieties predominant in each, which also reflect the different soil. The Angel Flower is a more exposed block, north facing that reflects a lightness, delicacy and an ethereal scent. The Lions Tooth with its golden dandelions and obvious lime rich soil shows a rich golden colour with a toasty sulphite nose. The Earth Smoke is a heavier clay, with a denser, wild, gamey outcome. The Field of Fire slopes away to an eastern aspect and into the heaviest clay and makes typically a green-hued delicate wine.

Earth Smoke, Angel Flower, Lion's Tooth and Field of Fire are the estate's home vineyards. Other wines are made from vineyards leased from growers in Canterbury and various other New Zealand regions, but Pyramid Valley have full responsibility for them, "turning the irrigation off and converting to biodynamics," according to Mike.

The wine

Wow this is sure different out the bottle. Pale red and cloudy in the glass, quite a shock. I thought this must be tainted....but no, the taste is amazing! Apparently part of the grapes in this wine have been personally foot crushed by Mike Weersing!

Aromas include plums with strawberry plus a hint of floral notes, perhaps roses and smokiness. Though it looks thin in the glass, this Angel Flower Pinot Noir has plenty of body, balanced acidity with super fine tannins. Strawberries and raspbery give delicious fruitiness, balanced by a lingering spice.

A Pinot like no other I have tasted. Fact!