ALL GROWN UP
Where have all the fruit bombs gone? They grew up and became elegant and sophisticated, says JOHN SAKER.
Pinot noir is becoming more elegant and sophisticated, says John Saker
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO at a trade tasting hosted by Central Otago winemakers, a restaurateur stood up and asked, in an aggrieved tone, why the region appeared to be moving away from making the style of pinot noir that he and many of his customers loved.
Specifically, he wanted to know where all the fruit bombs had gone.
Ah, the fruit bomb. The term itself, which has a pejorative edge, only gained currency after the style’s ubiquity began to fade. It describes the voluptuous, dark, soft, very ripe Central pinots that burst on to the scene in the late ’90s and early noughties.
In my book on New Zealand pinot noir, published in 2010, I described the style as ‘pinot for beginners’, which in many ways it was. These were easy wines to understand and like, and they served as the perfect bridge from the sweet jammy versions of Aussie shiraz that were in vogue at the time. Consumers could switch allegiances to the hip new local red without making too great a stylistic leap.
I regard 2002 as the high water mark of the Central Otago fruit bomb. It was an excellent vintage, a lot of new labels had come on stream in the region and the Central producers held several tasting events around the country. The pinots were mostly fruit bomb in style and the punters fell for them, head over heels.
Fast forward to today, and the fruitbomb bubble has burst. The style that won so many admirers and converts has become an increasingly rare breed.
Put it all down to evolution.
The pinot noir market has grown in New Zealand, not only in size but in sophistication.
“Nobody ever set out to make a fruit bomb,” says Prophet’s Rock winemaker, Paul Pujol. “A combination of things contributed to those wines being the way they were – young vines (which give you exuberant, fruit-forward wines) and winemakers without much experience of their region erring on the side of overripeness rather than unripeness. As winemakers, we were finding stuff out.”
Pujol says he was always conscious that the challenge was to build more structure and complexity into the wines. He and other Central Otago winemakers set out to do just that, seeking to better understand their vineyards and make wines that expressed those sites with clarity and detail. Pujol describes it as a fascinating process of “learning and adapting”. The way he handles the fruit grown on the Prophet’s Rock Bendigo site has changed dramatically over the years.
The result is more wines that are lighter in colour with more tension and elegance. And despite the occasional cri de coeur from a restaurateur, he and other winemakers from the region are very happy with the pathway they’re on.
“I think a lot of consumers are on the journey with us. As we learn more about our region, their understanding has also increased. The pinot noir market has grown in New Zealand, not just in size but in sophistication – just look at the Burgundies that are now available. And a lot of sommeliers appreciate the new styles we’re making because they’re better food wines.
“I sometimes wonder what the reaction would have been if we made the wines we’re making now back in the ’90s – ‘If I wanted a rosé I would have asked for one!’”
He adds that consumers who have a hankering for fruit bombs are still being catered for.
“Those wines are still out there. There are wineries that are happy making that style and good on them. We need that diversity. An interesting thing too is how well many of the fruit-bomb pinots made back then have aged. I’ve tasted a few ’02s and ’03s lately and they’re absolutely great. Not many predicted that.”
Prophet Rock’s winemaker, Paul Pujol