I recently read a quote from an unnamed Winemaker that said “making Pinot Gris is like painting a picture using only white paint.” Well, I have come to the conclusion that the Winemaker in question must be colourblind! The colours of the Pinot Gris grape-skins alone are beautiful and vary so much, ranging from onion skin to pale pink and light purple. Maybe this winemaker never actually looked at the grapes?!
In New Zealand, we use the French names for this family of grapes: Pinot Gris (grey), Pinot Blanc (white) and Pinot Noir (black). They are all mutations of the same grape and the pigment in the skins of the grapes is how they were named. Different regions in Europe call a wine made from Pinot Gris different things: Tokay (Alsace), Pinot Beurot (Burgundy), and Malvoisie (Loire), while in Germany it’s Grauburgunder or Grauer Burgunder (“Grey Burgundy”). I am often asked, “What is Pinot Grigio?” The answer is - Italian Pinot Gris.
Plantings of Pinot Gris in NZ mostly come from clones imported from Switzerland, Germany and more recently Italy. We have two different Swiss clones in our Gibbston vineyard and a Swiss and Italian clone in the Waitaki. These clones were selected for lower cropping, quality production as opposed to some others that are designed to produce large crops and massive volumes of commercial wine. Planting these clones in cooler growing areas where the bunches are smaller and the volume is lighter is the precursor to the quality and diversity of the Valli Pinot Gris. Ok, enough history for today - let’s talk about the wines!
At Valli, we have tremendous enthusiasm for this grape variety and are fascinated by the diverse styles that are derived largely from the regions where it is grown (which in our case are the cooler climates of Gibbston and Waitaki). We choose winemaking techniques to guide these grapes into delicious wines that we believe best express these wonderful sub-regions. We make three different styles of Pinot Gris. This blog post introduces a brand new style for Valli, the Waitaki Pinot Gris 2020 which is bone dry and mostly barrel fermented; as well as the new vintage of an old friend, Gibbston Pinot Gris 2020, which is near dry and entirely tank fermented. We also make a full skins ferment “orange” Pinot Gris (the Real McCoy) from our Gibbston Vineyard and the 7th vintage is currently resting peacefully in barrels for another few months - so watch this space.
With this release you have the opportunity to try two very different “classic” styles of Pinot Gris from the same vintage and I wager you will struggle to choose a favourite. The Gibbston Pinot Gris is made to capture the freshness, fragrance and longevity of Gibbston wines. We ferment it cool, in a stainless steel tank without extended lees contact and give it about a year in bottle before release. The Waitaki Pinot Gris is made to showcase the rich texture and more savoury side of this variety using older oak barrels with a warmer fermentation and extended lees contact - it also spent a year in bottle before release. Both of these wines are delicious on their own but really shine when served with a meal - the Waitaki in particular is an amazing food wine. I won’t spoil the surprise now and tell you the flavours and textures to expect because that is your job. It's time for me to get back to my colourful palette and contemplate the next canvas while you dust off your palate and try these new Valli wines.