Novum Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand 2016

Novum Pinot Noir 2016.jpg
Novum Pinot Noir 2016.jpg

Novum Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand 2016


It’s a beautiful bottle to look at, but we’ve been fooled by a trendy wax capsule and some smart calligraphy before, so we weren’t going to be influenced by the packaging, yet it only took one swirl and a satisfied inhalation of glorious Pinot Noir aromas to know that we had stumbled upon something special. It’s a deeper hue than you might expect from Marlborough, still translucent through the glass, but with a healthy dark cherry sheen to the colour. The aromas are opulent, flamboyant even, like molten jewels laced with sweet blackcurrants and Chinese five spice. On the palate it has texture and depth, a beautiful inner perfume and the impression of a rich core of brambly, thorny fruit waiting to unfurl. It’s still young and is only stuttering towards the sort of eloquence you can expect in 2 or 3 years’ time, but there’s enough pleasure on offer now if impatience intervenes. The temptation is to compare any New World Pinot Noir to Burgundy, but this is so proudly and distinctly a New Zealand Pinot Noir that it makes more sense to compare it to its peers and I think it shows some of the silky, rich intensity of Felton Road’s ‘Block 5’ and the glamour of Prophet Rock’s ‘Retrospect’ Pinot Noir, both from Central Otago, which is where I would put the Novum if given it blind. Try it with crispy duck in tamarind sauce or dragon roll sushi or roast pork with prune and chestnut stuffing, because it can handle bold flavours. All of the fruit was destemmed, it underwent a wild ferment and was aged in 30% new oak. 13% alcohol. Drink 2019-2028.

Novum - a background
Novum is the brainchild of Will and Rachel Hoare (pictured below). Like all good stories, it sprang from adversity, when Will was kicked out of school for selling wine to his fellow students. A more sympathetic headmaster might have kindled that early sign of entrepreneurial spirit, but it was not to be the case. The prospect of becoming a drifter was never on the cards, so he dusted himself down and got a job at Cloudy Bay, where he spent a year on the bottling line before their oenologist, James Healy, saw something in him and invited him to join the wine-making team. It was at a time when Healy was turning his attention to Pinot Noir and he suggested that Will should expand his knowledge of that grape by spending the winter months in the northern hemisphere, so for 5 consecutive years Will went over to California and helped with vintages at Au Bon Climat, learning about the importance of soil and site selection from the inspirational Jim Clendenen.

On his return to New Zealand, he pursued his interest in small parcel selection by helping out at Fromm, who were the only winery in Marlborough focusing on single vineyards at the time. That short stint turned into a 19 year career, rising from cellar hand to general manager, before the call to do his own thing became too loud to ignore.  

Will’s father had been one of Marlborough’s early pioneers, planting some of the first vines back in the 1970s, and the family became contract growers for many of the top wineries, developing an extensive knowledge of Marlborough’s best sites. They are still Cloudy Bay’s oldest growers. Thanks to his family’s network of contacts, Will grew up with his boots as deep in Marlborough’s soil as any aspiring winemaker could wish for, with an address-book filled with the names of all the important growers in the region, and has spent his career getting to know all the ‘sweet spots’ as he calls them:  

“We have learnt that the best fruit usually comes from just a small pocket of a good vineyard, due to soil type, microclimate etc. It might be just a few rows, the eastern side of a slope, or a rocky swale running through a vineyard site. Pinpointing these pockets takes additional time to sample and costs more to hand harvest, but in our experience, it is these tiny parcels of fruit that produce the most intense and interesting wines.”

The Novum Pinot Noir 2016 is made from three such parcels in the Southern Valleys, which is regarded as Marlborough’s ‘secret garden’ for premium Pinot Noir. All three plots are organically-farmed and were singled out for the exceptional fruit they produce, with the ‘Yarrum Vineyard’ (pictured below) bringing the flesh, the ‘Settlement Vineyard’ bringing the treble notes and the ‘Churton Vineyard’ bringing the bass notes.  

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Farming: organic