felton-road-bannockburn-pinot-noir-2020
felton-road-bannockburn-pinot-noir-2020

Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2020

Sale price$87.50
Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand

Style: Red Wine

Variety: Pinot Noir

Closure: Screwcap

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Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2020

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Burke Road
Camberwell VIC 3124
Australia

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Producer: Felton Road

Country: New Zealand

Region: Central Otago

Vintage: 2020

Critic Score: 96

Alcohol: 14.0%

Size: 750 ml

Drink by: 2035


It has an underlying complexity that promises to reveal itself with bottle age. A seriously good pinot noir - Bob Campbell MW

"If Central Otago was the Côte de Nuits, then Bannockburn would likely be Vosne-Romanee and I'm going to hang it right out and say that Felton Road would be the top gun, the DRC."  James Suckling

The Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir is a blend from The Elms, Cornish Point, Calvert and MacMuir vineyards. The different vineyards and blocks are vinified separately and are recombined at the time of racking out of barrel just prior to bottling.  It is this mix of vineyard origin and vine age that provides the wine with many layers of flavours and textures.  

"A perfumed nose of strawberries, sour cherries, raspberries, violets, vanilla and baking spices. It's medium-to full-bodied with lively acidity and fine tannins. Balanced and compact with a velvety texture and a bright core of fruit on the mid-palate. Long finish. Chewy. Needs a few years to soften, but already impressive."  Nick Stock

The modern gravity fed winery receives 100% estate grown fruit from its four vineyards that are all farmed biodynamically and are fully certified by Demeter. There is minimal intervention in the winemaking. Ferments are spontaneous from the wild or indigenous yeasts that are in the vineyards and winery. The 2020 Bannockburn Pinot Noir comprises 20% whole bunch and spent 13 months in 30% new French oak barrels from artisan Burgundian coopers. It was neither fined nor filtered.

"Bramble, autumnal forest after rain and bright berry fruits lead the nose.  Sweet fruit on the entry coats the mouth; immediately expansive and alluring. Incredibly balanced and harmonious with the fruit depth defining the immediate pleasure, but without the wine falling victim to being 'fruit driven'. Silk laden tannins complete the mouthfeel and demonstrate an apparent boundless capacity to develop nuance and complexity. The harmony undoubtedly comes from the calibre of our four primely situated and respectfully farmed Bannockburn vineyards."  Felton Road

Expert reviews

"A perfumed nose of strawberries, sour cherries, raspberries, violets, vanilla and baking spices. It's medium-to full-bodied with lively acidity and fine tannins. Balanced and compact with a velvety texture and a bright core of fruit on the mid-palate. Long finish. Chewy. Needs a few years to soften, but already impressive."  Nick Stock, JamesSuckling.com – 95 points

"Deep-tinted pinot noir with black doris plum, dark cherry and berries, together with a seasoning of five-spice. Quite firmly structured with underlying complexity that promises to reveal itself with bottle age. A seriously good pinot noir. Drink: 20212031."  Bob Campbell MW, The Real Review - 95 points

"Enticing, heady fragrance of violets, undergrowth and spiced sour cherries – lovely vibrancy and vitality that extends through the palate. A spine of structured, sinewy tannins, roasted nut oak tones and nervy acidity holds up the complex, rippling flavours of rich black cherry, plum compote, autumn leaves and earthy minerals. This terroir-driven youngster is bursting with potential and will continue to integrate and age beautifully. Drink: 2022-2032."  Tina Gellie, Decanter – 95 points

The vineyards 

Felton Road Vineyards Map

Felton Road farms four properties in Bannockburn totalling 32 hectares. The four vineyards are The Elms (14.7ha), Cornish Point (7.6ha), Calvert (4.6ha) and MacMuir (5.1ha). The vineyards are nestled on gentle north facing slopes at elevations between 200 and 335 m above sea level and totally surrounded by high mountains up to 2000 m. 

The Elms Vineyard (14.7ha)

Felton Road The Elms Vineyard

The Elms Vineyard, at the end of Felton Road, lies in a gently sloping, north facing valley cut into the Bannockburn hills at the southern extremity of the Cromwell Basin. Immediately above the vineyard lies Stewart Town and a large dam, where water was stored for sluicing the slopes of Bannockburn during the gold-rush, which started in 1862. The fact that this valley was untouched by the gold miners is possibly a reflection of the deep benches of heavy soil that form much of its structure: soils unlikely to hold significant amounts of gold. After the gold miners departed, the slopes were left for sheep to graze until 1991 when Stewart Elms discovered the site's potential for great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. He started to plant in 1992 and Felton Road began.

The vineyard was originally planted over two phases: Blocks 1-9 were planted from 1992-1994 at vine densities of 2667 vines/ha and Blocks 10-13 were planted in 2001 with vine densities of 4000 vines/ha. Replanting of Blocks continues where we feel new plant material and higher density will outperform vine age. The vineyard is comprised of 7.7 ha of Pinot Noir, 4.9 ha of Chardonnay and 2.1 ha of Riesling. A wide variety of clones and rootstocks has resulted in a complex patchwork of viticultural trials. VSP canopy management is employed using a cane pruned double Guyot. The viticulture is 100% organic and biodynamic and is fully certified by Demeter.

The vineyard has two principal soil types. Our preferred soil for Pinot Noir is the deep swathe of Waenga soils that form a bench at the base of the hills. The parent rock is schist and tertiary sediments and the soils have developed on fan detritus from schist alluvial materials with an average 40cm cover of wind accumulated loess. Deeper down there are fine dendritic calcium carbonate accumulations overlying fine gravels and lake-bed sediments. The roots can easily penetrate through the profile and can be readily found at depths of three metres on 15 year old vines. The Waenga soils are of moderate fertility with good water holding capacity. The Lochar series is another fan soil of schist gravels with a thin loess covering. The schist gravels can be seen coming all the way to the surface and reach depths of three metres and more.The very friable sandy gravels are interspersed with bands of sandy clay loam that can cement the gravels into pans, yet are still easily penetrable by vine roots. It is on these soils where we plant Chardonnay and Riesling.

With the complex variation in soil, slope, elevation and aspect; fruit from The Elms Vineyard is very varied in personality. Pinot Noir from the deepest parts of our Waenga soils in Block 3 display power and complexity. The same bench extends across into Block 5, which also includes a band of clay in the middle and Lochar gravels at the very south of the Block. This generates a unique finesse and depth to the wine. The east sloping Block 2 (and Block 4) is entirely comprised of Lochar gravels and is ideal for Chardonnay and Riesling, while the heavier soils give extra weight to Riesling in Block 1. Block 6, is again, Lochar gravels but on a steeper north facing slope. Farther up the valley nestled against the steeper hills to the south and west, a swathe of heavy Waenga soil occurs again in Blocks 10 and 11.These Blocks are later ripening due to losing the sun earlier and their higher elevation (330 metres compared to 260m of Block 2).

Cornish Point Vineyard (7.6ha)

Felton Road Cornish Point VineyardCornish Point is an old gold miners’ settlement located adjacent to the Hartley and Reilly diggings where the first large find of gold was made in the Central Otago gold rush. It was named after the Cornish gold miners who lived there and was abandoned in the late 19th century then planted as an apricot orchard in the mid 20th century. We planted it to vines in 2000. Bordered on one side by the Clutha River and on the other by the Kawarau (now both flooded at this point to form Lake Dunstan), it is unique in being almost totally surrounded by water. The vineyard is adjacent to the entrance to the Cromwell Gorge which results in steady airstreams. This unique location, as well as the proximity to the lake; both help minimise frost.  

With the low elevation (193-202 metres) and proximity to the lake, fruit from Cornish Point is often the first pick of our harvest (although some Blocks on the heavier soils pick somewhat later). The resulting wines display dense and dark fruit, with warm and inviting textures from usually softer acidities and rounded, well-formed tannins. The bouquet is particularly intense from this vineyard: floral and deep fruit notes predominating. Flavours are always in the dark end of the spectrum, with pronounced secondary notes rather than simple primary fruit. 

The soils are comprised entirely of the Manuherikia series classified as “moderately deep fine sandy loams”. They are a low terrace soil of windblown origin (loess soils) lying on bands of terrace river gravels and older silts. The soils date from the retreat of the glaciers up the Cromwell valley over 20,000 years ago. Deeper down there is clay and significant calcium carbonate deposits agglomerating alluvial pebbles. The depth of the silt loam top soil is quite consistent across the Block at 40cm. There is a small area (Blocks 23, 24 & 25) of more shallow soils on the steeper section rising up against the rocky bluffs of the southern boundary. Although the edges of Cornish Point were eroded by sluicing or other diggings, the vineyard itself is undisturbed soils.  

The vineyard is planted in 18 different clone and rootstock combinations, separated into 25 Blocks. Rows are orientated to 345 degrees so the vines receive an extra hour of morning sun and one less of the hotter afternoon sun. A row width of 2.2 m and vine spacing of 1.13 m results in 4040 vines per hectare. The plants are on three rootstocks: 101.14, Riparia Gloire and 3309 as well as eight Blocks planted to own roots. Clones of Pinot Noir are B114, B115, B667, B777, Abel, AM10/5, UCD 5, and UCD 6. A small amount of B95 Chardonnay is also planted. VSP canopy management is employed using a cane pruned double Guyot. The viticulture is 100% organic and biodynamic and is fully certified by Demeter.

Calvert Vineyard (4.6ha)

Felton Road Calvert Vineyard

Calvert Vineyard is located just two km east of the Elms Vineyard on Felton Road. The gentle north-east facing slope lies immediately below the hills of the Bannockburn Gold Sluicings, now a historic park. The tailraces of Bailey’s and Pipeclay Gullys’, that carried away massive amounts of sluiced gold workings, flank the vineyard to the west and east respectively and provide helpful cold air drainage to minimise frost risk. The vineyard land had been home to a few sheep, rabbits and briar bushes prior to the planting of vines in 2001. Felton Road started leasing the entire Calvert Vineyard in 2001 (10.2ha) and in 2013 purchased outright the Willows, Springs and Aurum Blocks totalling 4.6 ha of Pinot Noir.  

With its low elevation (215-228 metres) and even soil distribution, the grapes ripen early and very consistently at Calvert Vineyard. Normally, the fruit ripens earlier than The Elms Vineyard due to its lower elevation, more sunshine (less shading from the western hills), Dijon clones and range of rootstocks. The wines have excellent texture and mouthfeel with floral aromatics and ripe dark fruits. The tannins are fine and focused with a distinct minerality.  

The vineyard is comprised entirely of the Bannockburn soil series classified as "deep silt loams." The soils are consistent across and down the slope except a heavier; more silt laden component appearing in the south-eastern corner (Willows Block). The soil is derived from a mixture of fine textured lake-bed sediments (tertiary clays) and quartz sands along with quartz and fine schist gravels. There is a shallow 20-25cm coating of loess on the surface. Deep down (over 1-2m) there are fine sandy loams and bands of sands, silts and rounded quartz gravels with many dendritic accumulations of calcium carbonate. The soils are regarded as having reasonably high natural fertility with good water-holding capacity. Despite their dense texture, there are no impenetrable layers.

Felton Road designed and planted the Aurum, Willows and Springs Blocks in 2001 to three clones of Pinot Noir (B667, B777, B115). Planting density is 3500 vines/ha with three different rootstocks (3309, 101.14, Riparia Gloire). Standard VSP canopy management is employed using a cane pruned double Guyot. The viticulture is 100% organic and biodynamic and is fully certified by Demeter. 

MacMuir Vineyard (5.1ha)

Felton Road MacMuir VineyardMacMuir Vineyard is located just one km east of The Elms Vineyard on Felton Road. It is a gentle north facing slope that lies immediately below the hills of the Bannockburn Gold Sluicings, now a historic park. MacMuir was originally part of the Calvert property and farmed by Felton Road since 2001. The land was being used to produce various crops of hay and straw for use in our compost, mulch and winter feed for animals, as well as a small productive nut orchard.  In 2010, Felton Road purchased the land from the Calvert family and planting began in 2012 after an extensive period of preparing the soils to optimise soil structure and fertility. Nigel Greening, Felton Road’s owner, is the son of a Muir clan member: Betty Muir, hence the title MacMuir (son of a Muir).Bannockburn seems to have a historic connection to the clan with the eastern half of Bannockburn being known as the Cairnmuir arm, and a number of vineyards in Bannockburn already sporting the Muir name.  

With the high density planting, diverse range of clones and vine material and heavy silt soils, MacMuir offers a range of complex fruit characters. The low lying vineyard (elevation 216-224 metres) is relatively sheltered and warm with excellent ripening potential. The even soil distribution minimizes variation within and across blocks ensuring consistency of fruit quality and character. The wines show excellent texture and mouthfeel with floral aromatics and ripe dark fruits. The tannins are fine and focused with a distinct minerality in a similar fashion to Calvert: not surprising considering they share the same soil type and their close proximity. 

The soils at MacMuir are comprised of the Bannockburn series classified as "deep silt loams." The consistent north facing slope provides a very uniform soil profile. Only towards the northern boundary, closer to the Kawarau River, do alluvial gravels start making an appearance at depths of around 1.5m. The soil is derived from a mixture of fine textured lake-bed sediments (tertiary clays) and quartz sands, along with quartz and schist gravels. There is a strong coating of fertile loess on the surface. Deep down (over 1.5-2m) there are fine sandy loams and bands of sands, silts and well-rounded quartz gravels with many dendritic accumulations of calcium carbonate. The soils are regarded as having reasonably high natural fertility with good water-holding capacity. 

MacMuir features our first plantings of the recently released Dijon clones 828 and 943. All remaining vine material was selected from our own vineyards from preferred and monitored mother vines. It is therefore a somewhat “massal” planting of Pinot Noir (from parent vines of UCD 5, Abel, AM10/5, B114, B115, B667, B777). Planting density is 4667 vines/ha with the rootstock 3309 used throughout. Standard VSP canopy management is employed using a cane pruned double Guyot. The viticulture is 100% organic and biodynamic and is fully certified by Demeter. 

Bannockburn

Felton Road, Bannockburn

Felton Road, the winery that made Bannockburn famous

Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is famous for wine, especially Pinot Noir. Wine has been produced in this rugged, mountainous region since the heady days of the 1860s Gold Rush. Today, as critical acclaim continues to grow for Central Otago Pinot Noir, the diverse styles of each vineyard sub-region are gaining recognition.

Due to the region's diverse terrain and multitude of mesoclimates, the growing areas are divided into seven distinct sub-regions, all offering a different expression of Central Otago Pinot Noir. The sub-regions are Alexandra, Bannockburn, Bendigo, Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa, Gibbston Valley, Queensberry and Wanaka (refer the maps below).

Bannockburn sub-region

This part of Central Otago has a distinctive semi-continental climate, found nowhere else in New Zealand.  Being the furthest inland one can be in New Zealand, it is one of the hottest, coldest and driest regions in New Zealand. Maximum summer air temperatures can reach 38°C and winter minimums of -10°C. The diurnal temperature range is typically 15 to 20°C and can be as great as 30°C (30°C during the day and down to 0°C at nights) in the weeks leading up to harvest: unusually high and a key reason for the intense varietal character, palate profile and fresh acidities typical of the region. Rainfall is very low with an annual average of 400mm that normally falls equally throughout the year and along with the low humidity, results in very low disease pressure.

"Bannockburn is Central Otago’s vinous sweet spot. I wrote this many years ago after tasting an extensive selection of pinot noir from Central Otago. That statement is as valid today as it was nearly two decades ago. Bannockburn wines achieve a consistency that must be the envy of winemakers in many other Central Otago subregions. It is an overstatement to say that Bannockburn doesn’t do bad vintages, but the sub-region certainly seems to ripen its grape crop with relative ease, although it is hard to generalise about an area that boasts many different soil types and vineyard aspects.

Although vintage, vineyard site and winemaking techniques blur regional definition, I do think that Bannockburn has a distinctive fruit-forward style that distinguishes it from other Central Otago subregions. I often find opulent plum and dark cherry flavours and a very attractive Musigny-like texture. That was particularly evident in the recent Central Otago new release tasting where we tasted 76 samples of pinot noir grouped by vintage and subregion. The seven Bannockburn wines from 2017 and the 12 wines from 2016 all showed discernible subregional characters that I would describe as plump, silken textures with plum and cherry flavours together with a suggestion of spice.

I then asked Blair Walter, Felton Road's winemaker, if he could describe the climatic/geographic features that make Bannockburn so special. 

"The soils in Bannockburn are very variable: 10 different soil types are described along the 3km length of Felton Road making it hard to generalise. I believe the heavier textured soils (with more silt and clay) offer a more velvet-like tannin to the wines. Bannockburn has many gentle north-facing slopes with a predominance of heavy silt soils. Also, these north-facing slopes have accumulated reasonable A horizons from the wind-blow loess that has blown down the valley from the dominant northerly winds. 

The heavier soils are interesting as they can help retard the ripening, which nowadays in a warmer subregion with warmer vintages than 20-25 years ago, is positive. 

Bannockburn has a climate that can ripen easily (shared with other Cromwell Basin subregions), so ripeness of fruit is always a feature with dark cherry and sometimes black plum characters. 

Sitting up against the Carrick Range, the western part of Bannockburn often receives higher rainfall. While not normally something that is seen as positive for vineyards, when you receive such low annual and growing-season rainfall in the first instance, higher rainfall is seen as positive. We sometimes need to utilise irrigation in dry periods and we find the seasons with the higher level of rainfall are almost always our best. 

Also, an interesting point is that the subregion was relatively easy to define: bordered by the Kawarau River to the north, arcing from the west from the exit of the Kawarau Gorge to the east at the entrance to the Cromwell Gorge, with the 400m elevation line to the south. Beyond this, it is regarded as too cool, and the fact that there is almost no plantable land as the hillsides become too steep, rocky, soilless, wind-exposed and potentially difficult to get water to."  Bob Campbell MW, The Real Review

 

Central Otago wine sub-regions

The winery

Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter

Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter

Felton Road is located in Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand; the most southerly wine growing region in the world. The vineyards are nestled on gentle north facing slopes at elevations between 200 and 335 m above sea level and totally surrounded by high mountains up to 2000 m. The latitude of 45 degrees south is similar to Oregon's Willamette Valley and some of the finest wine regions of France. In addition, the climate has a number of characteristics that seem to be particularly favourable to Pinot Noir.

Felton Road was purchased in 2000 by Nigel Greening, a self-described Pinot Noir addict from England and has been farmed organically and biodynamically since then. Felton Road farms four properties in Bannockburn totalling 32 hectares. The four vineyards are The Elms, Cornish Point, Calvert and MacMuir. 

The 14.7 hectare Elms vineyard was selected by Stewart Elms in 1991 and planted the following year. It is a gentle north-facing valley, one of the few in Bannockburn to escape the attention of the gold miners. Careful attention was given to the matching of vine varieties and rootstocks to the soil variations that are found on the site. Around half of the vineyard is planted with Pinot Noir, the rest with Chardonnay and Riesling. This vineyard defines the core of Felton Road's wines. 

The 7.6 hectare vineyard nearby at Cornish Point was planted in 2000 and is dedicated mostly to Pinot Noir, with 0.3 ha of Chardonnay. There are 18 different combinations of Pinot Noir clones and rootstock, each carefully matched to the soil profiles. The vineyard is designed to allow separate vinification of each section: a veritable laboratory possibilities of Pinot Noir and its possibilities. 

The 4.6 hectare Calvert Vineyard, made up of the Willows, Springs and Aurum Blocks, was originally part of the Calvert property and was planted entirely to Pinot Noir in 2001 by Felton Road. It was leased from 2001 to 2013 when it was purchased by Felton Road.

Felton Road started leasing the entire Calvert Vineyard (10.2 ha) in 2001, and in 2013, when the vineyard came up for sale, purchased outright the Willows, Springs and Aurum Blocks (4.6 ha) which are planted solely to Pinot Noir. 

Situated just west of the Calvert vineyard is the 5.1 hectare MacMuir vineyard which was also originally part of the Calvert property. It was purchased by Felton Road in 2010 and planted to Pinot Noir in 2012.

The vineyards are all farmed biodynamically and are fully certified by Demeter. Minimal intervention in the winemaking with such practices as wild yeast, and no fining or filtration, allow the unique vineyard characters to further express their considerable personality. The vineyards are planted at vine densities of between 2700 to 4000 vines/ha, with more recent plantings up to 5000 vines/ha.  

Felton Road's winemaker is Blair Walter, who studied at Lincoln University and Oregon State University before working in New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, Napa Valley, and Burgundy. The philosophy is to let the fruit speak for itself: gentle handling and as little intervention as possible. The wine is given a helping hand to express itself. In order to best preserve this personality, all wines are bottled with screwcap closures. 

Since the first vintage in 1997, Felton Road has acquired a formidable worldwide reputation. Despite the fame, a gentle philosophy drives Felton Road. For example, owner Nigel Greening believes that growth is by its own definition, unsustainable. In 2001, he decided that Felton Road would never grow beyond 400 barrels (150,000 bottles).

Wine region map of New Zealand

New Zealand

New Zealand is home to more than 700 wineries across 14 wine regions. The regions are Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Central Otago, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Marlborough, Martinborough*, Nelson, Northland, Waikato, Waipara Valley, Wairarapa and Waitaki Valley. * Martinborough is a sub-region of Wairarapa, however, as it is world renowned it is considered here to be a region to avoid confusion.

The wine regions in New Zealand stretch from latitudes 36°S (Northland) in the north (comparable in latitude to Jerez, Spain), to 45°S (Central Otago) in the south (comparable in latitude to Bordeaux, France). New Zealand's climate is maritime, producing cooler summers and milder winters than would be expected at similar latitudes in Europe.

Viticulture in New Zealand dates back to 1836 when British resident James Busby produced wine in the far north, but it wasn't until 1985 that the wine industry came of age when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc garnered international attention and critical acclaim.

New Zealand is internationally renowned for Sauvignon Blanc (particularly from Marlborough), Pinot Noir (Central Otago, Martinborough and Waipara Valley), Chardonnay, Bordeaux-style blends of mainly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawkes Bay) and Syrah (Hawkes Bay). Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 63% of the area of the national vineyard, followed by Pinot Noir (14%), Chardonnay (8%), Pinot Gris (7%) and Merlot (3%).