James Millton’s powers of observation, and knowledge of his varied sites, run deep.
This ability to relate the vine’s sequences of growth and the characteristics of its fruit to the Gisborne environment is based on decades of careful observation combined with encouraging the diversity and balance of plant and animal life that enables his vines to thrive. He enriches his own experiences by keeping in close touch with the New Zealand biodynamic community, combined with regular trips to work in Europe on enterprises that practise biodynamics. At its heart is the timing of interventions in the vineyard in relation to the vine’s seasonal patterns of growth from bud burst through to pruning. His efforts with Pinot Noir are an example.
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Most of the Pinot Noir grown in the Gisborne region was for Montana’s sparkling wines. As in Champagne, the grapes are picked at high yields and before they reach physiological ripeness. James and Annie produce Pinot Noir from different clones that are pruned to give much lower yields and have the aromas and flavours to make a still wine. Grapes are kept on the vine until they have an acceptable acid-sugar balance and colour, and the tannins have had the opportunity to evolve. These components combine in the barrel fermentations and maturation to give the complex flavours in the finished wine. Their Pinot Noir vineyard is planted on a hilly, well-exposed site in Manutuke on calcareous base rock and the resultant wines belie the assumption that still Pinot Noir of quality cannot be made from grapes grown in the Gisborne region.
Their Chenin Blanc – which has remained one of Millton’s signature varieties even though only 50 hectares of it is grown in New Zealand – has also achieved a consistency that sees it regularly ranked among the best in the country.
Because of their deep knowledge and demonstration through practice of their dedication to organic and biodynamic practices, Millton Vineyards were invited to become a member of the ‘Family of Twelve – a co-operative of twelve of New Zealand’s premium wineries, several of whose members are convinced both philosophically and pragmatically of the future of organic and biodynamic production. Tapping into the consumers who believe in the necessity for all land-based production to become more sustainable offers hard-nosed commercial advantages to those like the Milltons with a long-standing commitment to biodynamic winegrowing.