COMMENTARY

A Perfect Return

By Eric Weisinger, The Traveling Winemaker


There have been countless narratives written about Pinot Noir. It is unquestionably one of the great varieties in the world and has enchanted people for centuries, possibly millennia. 

Most winemakers I know, once they have worked with it, develop a certain attraction for this delicate red. It may, in fact, be one of the most seductive reds around. Why? Well, it just is. And to a large degree, due to this attraction, I boarded a plane 10 days ago and once again crossed the equator, passed the Tropic of Capricorn and landed, softly I might add, back in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. During that flight, winter turned to summer and I, having left on my 40th birthday, ended one personal era and started another.

I departed from Portland. It was a quick flight to San Francisco and, after a short layover, I boarded a Boeing 747 for the hop across the Pacific. I don’t sleep much on cross-Pacific flights. Usually, I work my way through whatever wine and beer list the airlines have, watch a few movies, then review the wine and beer list again. There are worse ways to travel, and I have.

I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand at 5:30 in the morning, just as the sun broke the horizon from which I had just come. I made my way through customs, declaring (most of) the wine I had packed into my bags, found my new gate and waited there to board a small two-prop puddle jumper that would take me the final leg south to Blenheim, Marlborough’s main city.

I had never flown into Blenheim before. On my last journey to New Zealand’s south island, I took the ferry from Wellington, across Cook Straight, through the Queen Charlotte Sound and into the small port town of Picton. I distinctly remember what a beautiful arrival it was. But this time, it was by air, and the approach to the airport overwhelmed me with thousands of acres of vines in view; a virtual sea of vineyards covering the Wairau River Valley. It was a perfect return.

Having grown up in Southern Oregon and cut my winemaking teeth on Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I’ve worked with it but only in limited amounts and certainly not very often. That will all change in about six weeks.

I’ve returned to Marlborough to work for Indevin Ltd., one of the largest custom-crush winery in the Southern Hemisphere. This is my second stint at Indevin; my last experience has lured me back. Really, there are only a few places where an Oregon winemaker can be involved in the production of 1,500 tons of Pinot Noir and Indevin is one of them. And even though 1,500 tons seem like a lot of fruit—especially to one who most of his career has dealt with 50 to 60 tons a season—it still pales in comparison to the 25,000 tons of Sauvignon Blanc the winery expects to see this year, as well (Oregon’s total tonnage for 2007 was just under 39,000 tons, for perspective).

In a little over a month, the vines of Marlborough will begin offering their vintage bounty. A flurry of activity will ensue and many winemakers, some of them far from home, will once again take part in what they are passionate about. Some will also miss home, family, friends and pets, and spring.

But in the meantime, there is a lot to do, to see, to learn and to taste. Speaking of which, tonight, I am opening a bottle of wine called, “Odyssey,” a Pinot Noir from Marlborough.  The winemaker, a woman from New Zealand, created the label after working harvests around the world over a period of many years.  It’s not a stretch to understand why I bought it. 

You can keep up with Eric’s traveling wine adventures at: www.thetravelingwinemaker.blogspot.com .

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