Nicks MILLS, Chairman of the Central Otago Winegrowers’ Association (inc.)
In defining Central Otago’s own viticultural path forward it has been, and will continue to be essential to look towards the classic model of Burgundy and its Climats for inspiration and guidance.
Protected over the centuries, the identity of the Climats and the crus they produce was formally recognised in 1936 under the AOC system.
As the very model of terroir-based viticulture, the Climats are exceptional; they stand out among the vineyards of the world as a benchmark for other wine-growing regions (for example Central Otago in New Zealand and Oregon in the USA, etc.).
The Climats are the result of a unique encounter between an extremely diversified subsoil and the unwaivering determination of men who have been striving for centuries to reveal the potential of the Côte terroirs through a single grape variety (Pinot noir for red wines, Chardonnay for the whites).
Each of the Climats has its own story and characteristics (soil type, gradient, altitude, sun exposure, grape variety) which give its wines their distinct character. This has resulted in a chiseling out of the territory which itself reflects the fact that two Climats situated just a few metres apart, within the same appellation may produce two entirely different wines.
The Côte vineyard began with a fault. A geological phenomenon, in the shape of a fault, has proved beneficial for both the environment and the wines of Burgundy from the very beginning.
Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune extend for almost sixty kilometers from Dijon in the north to Maranges, south of Beaune but they are only one or two kilometres wide at best. The Côtes are a succession of east/north-east facing hills and slopes of between 200 and 450 meters high, where the rows of vines face south-east. These hills or “Côtes” are nestled between the rift valley which makes up the Saône plains and a limestone plateau, and covered with scrub, woods and indigenous grasses.
Thirty million years ago, the granite bedrock covered by a layer of old sea bed sediments collapsed and cracked open, creating one large fault and many other smaller satellite faults which broke up and juxtaposed geological strata of different ages and types ultimately to form a mosaic of diverse soils.
This event pushed up to the surface ancient (160 million year-old) layers of limestone and clay, creating the escarpment which forms Burgundy’s Côtes overlooking the damp plains below.
The slow erosion which took place over the quarternary period, during the ice age, sculpted this into two escarpments the first is the Côte de Nuits, which lies to the north. Its geological structure has raised outcrops from the Jurassic period. The second is the Côte de Beaune to the south where conversely the Jurassic layers are lower. Over time, erosion hollowed out the transverse valleys called combs but which no longer contain permanent streams.