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Montana's Pinot Gris set for quality vintage

Published:  18 January, 2007

Montana, which last year launched its own unique expression of Pinot Grigio, has announced the start of the 2008 vintage which is set to be "the kind of vintage winemakers love with exceptional fruit quality," according to Chief Winemaker at Montana, Jeff Clarke.

The harvest got underway at the beginning of March, slightly earlier than usual, and the fruit for Montana's key variety from Hawke's Bay, Pinot Grigio, will be harvested towards the end of March.

Despite volumes being slightly lower than they could have been due to a late spring frost as well as cool weather over-flowering, the new vintage offers huge promise as a result of the excellent weather that followed over the ripening period, with northern parts of New Zealand recording one of the warmest, driest summers on record.

"The grapes I've seen to date look very good," says Clarke. "Being a cool-climate winemaker, ripeness is always a focus for us and this year the grapes are certainly riper than at a comparable stage last year. Due to the lower crops, the fruit intensity is excellent. Down here, the fruit we harvest is pretty much what you get in the bottle, and the balance in the grapes this year suits the style of wine we're making."

New Zealand pioneer and category driver, Montana, is driving the style and use of Pinot Grigio in New Zealand and is therefore a key reason behind the varietal's recent success. Plantings nationally have quadrupled in the last five years, from 316 hectares in 2003 to 1223 hectares this year. Pinot Gris/Grigio is now New Zealand's third most planted white variety, behind Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Most of Montana's Pinot Grigio in Hawke's Bay is grown on Matapiro Vineyard, deep in the valley of the Ngaruroro River. Being further from the coast and at higher altitude than the other vineyards in the region, Matapiro is generally cooler and in some ways more like Marlborough than typical Hawke's Bay terroir. With the high daytime temperatures and cool nights at this location, grapes grown on Matapiro tend to have thicker skins, better fruit expression and slightly higher acidity than those grown on the plains.

Because the vineyard experiences lower night temperatures, Montana made a significant investment to equip the vineyard with a sprinkler frost-protection system. This allowed Matapiro to avoid the frost damage that affected large parts of Hawke's Bay this vintage.

Explaining the rise of Pinot Grigio in New Zealand, Clarke says the variety makes a very drinkable wine. "You can drink it on its own; it's not too heavy and rich." The Montana Pinot Grigio range (which includes the Classic and the Reserve) is already proving popular in the UK with listings including Tesco, Threshers and Nisa.

Adrian Atkinson, Wine Development Director of Pernod Ricard UK, comments: "We are looking forward to what looks set to be a third great vintage of our unique Pinot Grigio, a wine that is particularly suited to New Zealand's cool climate. The UK market has responded well to last year's launch and with the excellent fruit quality that we're seeing from this year's grapes, 2008 looks set to be another exciting year for us and will provide a clear opportunity for growth in the UK market."

The news of the start of the new vintage in Hawke's Bay follows Montana's announcement of the start of the Gisborne harvest on 27 February 2008, which looks set to put some sparkle back in the region with a naturally expressive, full flavoured, vibrant vintage of the region's signature varietal, Chardonnay. The grapes first harvested by Montana in Gisborne are used for making its premium sparkling wines, for which the company has a 90% share of New Zealand's export market.

Source: Pernod Ricard