Iconic wines are as much about place as they are about style. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc became iconic for its style, which was, in turn, an expression of its place. Enjoyment and great wine are to be had when grafting a variety into an atypical terroir. But there is a special magic in working with an icon; Champagne is Champagne, Bordeaux is Bordeaux. That’s why Cloudy Bay, having established an icon in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, set its sights on Central Otago Pinot Noir.
Before 1987, there were no vineyards in Otago. Deep in sheep farming country, in the shadow of the Southern Alps, it was an unlikely place to grow grapes. And yet just twenty years later, Central Otago’s plots of prime vineyards grew ninefold. The world’s southernmost wine region had iconic status.
Central Otago has a continental climate with short, warm and dry summers and cold winters. Glaciers spent millennia carving their way down from the Southern Alps. The beds of these once-frozen rivers now serve as the soil for many of the region’s finest vineyards. The Alps serve as the island’s spine, a spectacular backdrop for the Lord of the Rings film franchise - and a rather good view from the cellar door.
Cloudy Bay’s team chose two complementary terroirs to make wine in Central Otago. Calvert’s loamy, silty soils and gentle slopes produce wines of fine tannins and silky textures. Northburn’s rocky, glacial soils and extreme slopes produce wines of structure and intensity. Blending grapes from the two contrasting sites gives the Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir its poise and power.
Terroir is nature as dramatis personae: each character of nature playing a role in the final production. The selection of terroir is critical for ensuring the intensity and complexity of the final wine. But, as with actors, vineyards need direction, attention to detail, and hard work.
Central Otago’s climate stands in stark contrast to Marlborough’s benign nature. The growing season is short and intense, with high daytime temperatures and frequently cold nights. These extreme fluctuations in the diurnal cycle lead to very ripe fruit flavours and high acidity.
Sitting on the banks of Lake Dunstan, the Northburn vineyard is steep and hilly, with terraces of unforgiving, rocky glacial soils. It is planted with 100% Pinot Noir and produces wines of structure and intensity. Calvert is more gentle. Situated in Bannockburn, on the rolling terrain of an ancient lake bed, its silty, loamy soils and gentle slopes create wines of opulence and elegance.
Calvert is certified organic, while Northburn began its organic conversion process in 2020.