The canny wine drinkers of Ireland have long been fans of Paddy Borthwick’s Paper Road Pinot Noir, so we are delighted to see what we already know confirmed by Decanter Magazine. When I asked Paddy for his reaction to the stellar 95 points, he modestly credited “a bit of luck amongst the big boys”. Of course, luck had nothing to do with it.
Coming from a family of beef and sheep farmers, Paddy had a new vision for the family land. In 1985, he left to study winemaking, followed by many years doing the vintage in both the southern and northern hemispheres, until he felt he was ready to make his own wine. He planted 27 hectares of vines in 1996, bordering the Ruamahunga river, seeing the potential of the stony, free draining soils and particular micro climate for producing excellent wines.
For a country who only started producing wine in the 1970s, and which accounts for just 1% of worldwide wine production, New Zealand punches well above its weight. It’s slightly cool climate suits those grapes which like it fresher, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Pinot Gris. However, picking times are changing yearly now with climate change. This is a perfectly example of how important it is to be independent and on the ground in the vineyard. It’s all about watching very closely and tasting regularly to choose the exact right time to pick each variety. There is no set rule. The last few years have seen higher temperatures and more rain, so Paddy’s vision of the free draining soil was prescient, allowing them to manage the vineyard even with wetter summers. Also, he says having older vines is an advantage, all leading to the production of this excellent Pinot Noir, even with the changing weather patterns.
Pinot Noir is a grape that fascinates wine lovers and acres of print have been devoted to what, exactly, is the ideal style of this wine. Burgundy has usually been held aloft as the benchmark, but as Oz Clarke observes “trying to put a stylistic straitjacket on Pinot Noir is as tricky as wrestling an eel”. Like Paddy’s experience with the yearly changes in their vineyard, a winemaker has to be prepared to go with what he or she is given, and be prepared and skilful enough to adapt your practices to best suit the grape, not try to fix it later in the winery. I remember Paddy being asked at a tasting in The Tannery a few years ago “how do you get that beautiful ripe cherry fruit flavour in your wine”, and Paddy replied that he didn’t ‘get’ it, that’s what the terroir gave him.
In the Decanter review, the Borthwick vineyard was described as having “an exceptional environment for Pinot Noir”. This was what Paddy Borthwick saw as a young man, and knew he has something special in his hands. Surrounding himself with an excellent team, including Briony Carnachan, (pictured above with Paddy in the winery and channelling a 70s pop band). He describes her as ‘logical, creative and precise’. Derek Mitchell is operations manager – a chameleon which is essential with the unpredictability of farming, and Lisa Hodson is the ‘mother guardian of our vineyard’.
Oz Clarke believes that Pinot Noir attracts a much wilder bunch than other grape varieties. It does not like to be manipulated into a marketer’s style box, and in Paper Road, which Decanter notes is all about the purity of fruit, it is the skill of the winemaker to let the fruit do the talking.