New Zealand’s Rippon Pinot Noir Has Burgundy Pedigree

Update 8.8.2012(12.8.2010)William Rusty Gaffney

mills-ripponNick Mills, who had picked up French in travels to France as a child with his winegrower father, Rolfe Mills, returned to Burgundy after a short-lived, injury-ending career as a world-class snow skier. He started as a cellar rat at Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, and stayed in Burgundy from 1998 to 2002, studying enology and viticulture in Beaune and working at some of Burgundy’s most celebrated domaines including Nicolas Potel, de la Vougeraie, and de la Romanee-Conti. Upon urgings from his mother in 2002, he returned to Rippon on the shores of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago, where some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines (some dating to 1985) in New Zealand are located.

80% of the Rippon vineyard is planted on its own roots and is not irrigated. The clones are Pommard, Lincoln, 10/2 and 10/5. The vines at Rippon have always been farmed organically, but upon Nick’s return, the entire property was converted to biodynamie, a philosophy that Nick passionately adheres to.

For the first time in the winery’s history, four separate Pinot Noirs were crafted from the 2008 vintage to better reflect the voice of the property. The Rippon Jeunesse Young Vine Pinot Noir is from grapes that are not considered mature enough to communicate fully all the complexities of the site. It is a pure expression of Pinot Noir, a spirited voice of Pinot Noir grown at Rippon, rather than the voice of the land from which it came. The second bottling is the Rippon Mature Vine Pinot Noir made from fully developed vines. Rippon Emma’s Block Mature Vine Pinot Noir is from a unique parcel located on the lake front. The fourth wine, Rippon Tinkers Field Pinot Noir, is from another unique block with ancient coarse schist gravelly soil and is home to the oldest vines on the property.

All the 2008 Rippon Pinot Noirs are stunning wines. How has Rippon achieved winemaking success? Take the latitude, the metamorphic schist-based soils rich in foliated mica and quartzite, the proximity of the Main Divide of mountains, Lake Wanake’s thermal mass, 50 years of empirical observation and understanding, established vines that accurately reflect their site, biodynamic farming, and a highly skilled Burgundy-trained winemaker in Nick Mills.

2008 Rippon Tinker’s Field Mature Vine Lake Wanaka Central Otago Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., pH 3.60, $92 (US). 40% whole cluster. Aged 10 months in 35% new to 4-year-old French oak barrels. Racked after MLF and allowed a second winter in neutral barrels (a total of 17 months in barrel). Unfined and unfiltered. The wine smells of the outdoors with scents of wooded forest and wet leaves, as well as darkly colored berry jam, with a hint of oak. Very tasty attack of dark cherry and berry fruit and cherry skin flavors with a subtle earthiness. Moderately rich, with fine grain polished tannins, a welcoming tug of acidity, and impressive persistence on the bold finish. The wine glides across the palate with a dreamy silkiness. Hard to put this wine into words: suffice it to say you know it when you experience it. Great later in the day after opening predicting age ability. A New Zealand old vine Pinot Noir epiphany.
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