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KICKING IT AT PINOT NOIR 2013 - Part 1


In case you were living under a twitter free rock, Pinot Noir 2013 kicked off in Wellington on Monday 28th January. It was one of the best wine conferences/events I have ever been to. There. I said it. I can't make that point any more clear.

But why? Many reasons, actually.

The format was a relatively simple one. Key note speech in the morning, then regionally focused sessions mid morning, followed by a stunning lunch by Ruth Pretty and the team, showcasing regional produce, international speakers and then back in to the fray in the afternoon to continue tasting. Many voices were heard, conversation was encouraged and controversy revered. Simple.

Day one of any of these types of events must always set the tone, and with proceedings kicking off with wine writer Matt Kramer and actor Sam Neil, this was certainly achieved. I'm not going in to detail of their talks here, for there has already been some great coverage by wine scribes far more articulate than me, so I encourage you to read Jamie Goode's and Alder Yarrow's (aka Vinography) posts. However, I will draw attention to Sam Neil's incredibly engaging and downright hilarious talk and one line that, for me, highlights how and why this event was so simply so good.

'We come together in collaboration, not competition'.

To all national wine bodies, regional associations, wine shows and wineries please read the above line again. Then one more time and repeat.

Sam Neil being, well, Sam Neil (photo courtesy of Pinot 2013)

Here, I believe, is the essence of why not only this event, but many others our cross-Tasman neighbours engage in, are so successful. With what seems a general feeling of malaise and lack of larger scale wine events in Australia, it would pay to take heed to this advice and listen. The exception to this are the smaller, independently run events that refreshingly pop up throughout the year. Rootstock, and dare I say Pinot Palooza, are prime examples of exactly this.

No, I am not that naive to think that all is a bed of roses and everyone just 'gets along' but when the curtain goes up, you have to hand it to the Kiwis for showing such solidarity and a united and positive front. Pinot 2013 could be a wine event case study.

I have witnessed first hand the inner politics of regional associations and the push and pull and fight to have your voice heard. I understand that entirely. Though, often, it is the lesser producers who make the most noise or, in Australia's case, larger ones pushing their own agenda for shareholder gain. There will always be benchmark producers in wine regions who get more coverage than others though, to quote Sam Neil's speech again, 'your neighbours success is your success'. *applause*

Back to Pinot Noir 2013.

Matt Kramer's key note address kicked things off well. Regardless of what you thought of his speech (again I refer to better summaries from the above links), the question of whether 'Can atheists make great Pinot Noir' was a concept worthy of discussion and thought. He said that when it comes to great Burgundy '2 + 2 does not equal 4, but 5.' That 'extra' point being a 'leap of faith' and or the intangible, that extra dimension. Jokes of 'why do I seem I get the Burgundy that only add up to 2 or 3' aside, it is that quest of greatness that many producers search for. Then there are those that simply want 2 + 2 to equal 4, and regularly. It seems consistency is seen as mediocrity.

Matt Kramer at the pulpit (photo courtesy of Pinot 2013)

I had a couple of thoughts about this. Matt spoke of searching for 'greatness in the shadows' and of producers needing to 'push it' to see how far they can go towards greatness. It was about them having to do the hard work and dare greatly. I couldn't agree more. This may be all well and good, though if 2 + 2 doesn't equal 4, then clearly the numbers don't add up. So why use the 100 point scale to judge wine? Should we now judge wine out of 110?

If winemakers and producers are to take all the risk, work hard, take the gamble and do all they can to produce what their land can provide and fail, will the writers celebrate? Will they be forgiving as they strive to find the best from their land? What will the score be out of 100? Will their effort and risk be taken into consideration? Probably not. No, I am not 'anti' points nor do I want to encourage a debate about it, just attempting to draw a parallel between scoring something intangible. Wine is so often so hard to contexturalize.

Speaking of hard to describe, Authenticity in wine.

Our good friend Mike Bennie kicked off day two with a remarkable talk. Yes, I am a little bias, and did assist him in putting together the film at the end of his speech, but it was a privilege to witness this open, honest and powerful speech first hand. Instead of dissecting the talk here, I encourage you to watch it for yourself as well as the video that followed. This talk really made you sit up and think; you could feel the room sitting on the edge of their seat listening to every word. As I said, I am biased so I encourage you to watch for yourself. And don't miss out on Duncan Forsyth's great introduction either. Bravo Mike Bennie, bravo.

Lunch.

A quick note on food. Ruth Pretty is simply one of the best caterers on the planet. How on earth she could produce such quality food, quickly and to that many numbers I have no idea. So here let me say thank you and well done.

During the lunch break there were further speeches to get you thinking even more before heading out to various venues to taste Pinot Noir from the major regions; an excellent concept. Ned Goodwin's talk, for me, was another highlight. His high energy, high speed speech was yet another example of 'story' and 'place' about his own journey from Sydney to New York to Japan and how sometimes emulation leads to narrow mindedness. His personal story was engaging and the parallels he drew between producers of the 'new world' emulating Burgundy were made with an intelligent subtlety. Yes, it got you thinking.

Check out his full speech below, you'll soon see what I mean. And sorry for some shaky camera work at times. I was having lunch!



Part Two to follow shortly ...



Pinot Noir




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