Victoria's new age of Pinot Gris
From white to blush, Victorian producers are showing just how diverse this chameleon of the wine world can be when it comes to style.
For those who don’t know, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same variety. The two differ according to where they are made and the style in which they are produced. Wines labelled Pinot Gris, often associated with the French region of Alsace, tend to express a richer texture and more honeyed, concentrated fruit characters. Pinot Grigio is associated with earlier-picked, crisp and dry styles that are lighter overall with notes of citrus and green apple from Italy’s North-East. Nowadays, fine examples produced in Australia, particularly in Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions embrace a slightly different approach.
The variety was introduced to Australia in 1830, though Pinot Gris/ Grigio didn’t take off until the launch of T’Gallant Wines by Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy in the late 1990s. Produced as a vibrant, aromatic, and dry white wine style, it has grown in popularity to become one of the most commercially successful varieties of this century – despite the fact it is a red-skinned grape. With more emergence in orange and skin-contact wines however, chances are the expression of Pinot Gris in your glass today has more colour than you might expect.
One such producer, Matt East of Rouleur Wines, has been producing a skin-contact Pinot Gris blend from a single vineyard in Woori Yallock since 2019. His lighter approach to skin contact is seen in his 2022 Rouleur Pinot Gris et al. with notes of orange blossom, quince, and guava, but with significantly more phenolic grip and texture on the palate. “My approach is limited time on skins - a week to 10 days at best,” says East. “Stylistically I want skin-contact to add colour, texture and savoury character.”
Skin-contact or skin-maceration imparts two main qualities: colour and tannins, and refers to the time where juice and grape skins are in contact with each other. This process can extend from a couple of hours to a number of months, adding more savoury, structured elements like ginger, spice, almond and herbal elements, as opposed to classic white wines where the fruit is pressed immediately. The emergence of these styles in Australia is influenced by the orange and ramato examples of the variety that are produced traditionally in north-east Italy, in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The skin-contact and extended maceration styles made iconic by producers like Radikon and Gravner, work with Pinot Grigio as a key variety, with Radikon producing a varietal ‘Sivi’, where the 2020 vintage is notable for its iridescent fuchsia hue and ginger-laced palate.
While the Australian landscape will undoubtably produce a different wine, it is this experimenting with skin-contact that some winemakers are being distinctly drawn to; Jayden Ong, who co-founded Cumulus Inc wine bar alongside chef Andrew McConnell produces Pinot Gris in the Yarra Valley - white under his One Block label and a more experimental skin-contact version under another, his Moonlit Forest label. “Initially it was out of interest,” says Ong, whose 2021 release is unfiltered, with a striking pink tint and notes of orange zest and pepper spice. “I was making Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris in the white version and was looking to make a wine with more phenolic content, to extend its suitability with food.” Ong is also trialling longer periods in barrel as well as a co-fermented Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris light-red option for future vintages. It is safe to say, this style of wine and winemaking provides versatility and deliciousness, and no doubt become even more interesting over time.
Words By Christina Kaigg-Hoxley, Wine bottle Photography Hugh Davison, Portrait courtesy of Matt East of Rouleur Wine