I worked a vintage at a winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, back in 2000. It was a great opportunity to build my knowledge (I was working towards my Master of Wine qualification) as the winery I worked for cultivated numerous varieties, but first and foremost they were considered pioneers for Pinot Noir. At this point in time, Marlborough production was dominated by Sauvignon Blanc. While in the region that vintage, I worked with a young assistant winemaker, Will Hoare, who was just finding his way, learning the ropes from the highly skilled Hatsch Kalberer at the Fromm Winery. Will was interested in making his own wines and always seemed to have some winemaking trial or other going on, as his family owned a couple of parcels of vineyard.
Roll the clock forward 21 years, and we were sent a sample of a Marlborough Pinot Noir from a producer I had never heard of before. I turned to vinous.com to check for any reviews and background. I noted that the newly appointed New Zealand critic, a fellow MW, Rebecca Gibb, had written strong endorsements for the estate's 2019s. Encouraged, I looked forward to tasting the Pinot.
Well, I was really impressed by this 2019 Pinot Noir as it showed in a vibrant, elegant way with just enough of a savoury, wild fruit character to add complexity. It was clearly skilfully made – the aromas capture floral notes and juicy, forest fruits. Purely expressed on the palate, the fruit showed delicacy and restraint, all red berry and dark cherry with hints of spice, forest floor and the merest hint of creaminess. It is one of those wines with a sneaky depth and concentration. The overall impression was one of clarity and purity – the winemaker’s choice to dial back the new oak had clearly paid dividends, as had the wild yeast fermentation. Many winemakers might rely on cultured yeast strains to run a more clinical fermentation, yet wild yeasts are indigenous and part of a vineyard’s DNA. Simply put they can build complexity. A series of clever decisions here have resulted in an attractive, vibrant Pinot Noir with nothing overstated or overplayed. Smart stuff was my conclusion.
So, suitably impressed, I looked for the producer’s website, clicked on the ‘about’ tab, only to be confronted with the unmistakable, beaming smile of Will Hoare, pictured with his partner Rachel. It is indeed a small world, but always refreshing to see someone deliver on their ambitions. I dropped Will a note and look forward to catching up when he has concluded his 2021 harvest.
The Novum approach is straight-forward; they supplement production from their own vineyards with small parcels of fruit from impeccable sources in the region. Winemaking-wise, they are relatively low interventionist, in Will’s words they ‘guide (rather than force) the fruit through the winemaking process’. This means they are gentle in extraction, use wild yeast and allow malolactic fermentation to take place in its time. Oak is kept to a minimum, as for Will, it is all about the expression of fruit. It is early days for this venture, but I am already impressed by what I have tasted, and I hope you will concur.