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Published: 18 Aug 2020

Rocco Longo

Researchers at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) are investigating how Pinot Noir wine characteristics could be used to prove provenance and help the industry better market their product.

Currently, there is little research and scientific evidence to support claims of regionality of Pinot Noir. With proof of a connection between terroir and flavours, wine makers could add evidence-based information to their brand story, and communicate this via wine bottle labels, websites, social media or conversations at the cellar door or retail outlet. For serious wine collectors, provenance is paramount.

Senior Lecturer in Management and co-investigator on the Pinot Noir Provenance project, Dr Gemma Lewis from the University of Tasmania, said provenance was becoming more important as it distinguishes the different wine-producing regions and what makes the wines grown and made unique.

“The Pinot Noir category is developing in terms of its market share, prominence and the number of people drinking it. This audience represents a group of wine drinkers that are really quite fascinated about provenance information and are tapping into what makes a region’s - or even a sub-region’s - wines unique,” she said.

“From a wine makers perspective, the more they can understand and the more information they have to verify what they themselves know about their wine, the better they can communicate this in a more engaging way. It gives them a new layer to their story, which is particularly important to those customers and supply chain partners who connect with the story behind the product and producers.”

To establish this connection, the project team focused on Australia’s main cool climate wine regions to gather wine samples from 2015, 2016 and 2018 vintages, accompanied by vineyard and winery surveys to establish how the grapes were grown and how the wine was made.

Project Leader and wine scientist at TIA, Dr Fiona Kerslake, said it was important for the team to understand how the different Pinot Noir styles were made in order to establish whether flavour and aroma of the wines were shaped by the wine making process or provenance.

“The project aim was to provide an evidence base for marketing of terroir and regionality. We are trying to articulate how we grow Pinot grapes in the different regions and what it is that gives people that edge,” she said.

“There are a wide range of wine styles that can be made from Pinot grapes, so if someone is targeting a certain style, we wanted to be able to articulate the steps to get there. We wanted to find out if that is regionality or if it’s because people learn from collegiality and peer-to-peer learning, which ended up with a regional style. So, it might be through wine making and not necessarily because of the type of soil the vines are grown on.”

Dr Kerslake also said that pinot noir presented many challenges for the project’s continuity as the grapes are notoriously hard to grow and produce significant flavour variability, meaning it was difficult to compare like-for-like wines across the three years of experiments.

“The pinot grape has a lot of variability in the variety with different colour of the grapes, different tannin profiles and different flavour and aroma profiles. There are also many different ways you can make pinot and there isn’t a defined style when we are talking about an Australian pinot. Because of this we only ended up with only 56 wines to analyse instead of the 100 wines we were initially aiming for. We also had to skip 2017 vintage as it was a terrible season and jump to 2018 for the final sensory component,” she said.

TIA Research Fellow and former wine maker Dr Rocco Longo ran the wine chemistry experiments within the project and was able to provide some valuable insights into the complex drop.

“Despite the wines likely being produced using different wine making techniques, it appears they were broadly similar within a region and distinct from those of other locations. So, this information, although just preliminary, is important for those wine characters promoting regional typicity,” Dr Longo said.

“We thought that we would see some more aroma profile effects coming from the different regions, however any climate drivers were overridden by the wine making practices. The best next step to test the wines, will be to have them all made in exactly the same way. This way you eliminate the human factor to then tell if there are true terroir characters.”

The project is due for completion at the end of 2020. Three follow-up projects have been identified, however additional funding will be required to continue research.

The project was funded by Wine Australia with support from the Australian Wine Research Institute, Wine QT, Shaw + Smith and Hill-Smith Family Vineyards.

Find out more about the project’s final sensory analysis from Dr Longo’s webinar being featured on International Pinot Noir Day, 18th August, and find out more about TIA’s wine research here.

TIA is a joint venture between the University of Tasmania & the Tasmanian Government.

Watch Dr Rocco Longo discuss his chemical and sensory comparison of Australian Pinot Noir wines as part of the above Pinot Provenance project.