Californian Making Mark in New Zealand Wines with Pyramid Valley

By Pamela S. Busch

Pyramid valley landscape

I don’t think there is a delicate way of putting this, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: An American makes the best wines coming out of New Zealand. Californian Mike Weersing arrived in New Zealand in 1996 by way of enology school in Dijon, France, and several stints at some of France’s best wineries, including De Montille in Burgundy and Kreydenweiss in Alsace. In New Zealand, he initially went to work as the winemaker at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson, and in 2000, he purchased an old farm in North Canterbury with his wife on the South Island.

Weersing’s vision was to make wine biodynamically, but it would take a few years before he would be able to work with the fruit from his land.

In the meantime, he rented parcels from growers in other areas. His stipulation was that they let him farm his section his way. While some may have thought his method was strange at first, a few have actually followed his lead and are undergoing organic and biodynamic conversion.

Now that the estate fruit is ready to go (and has been since the 2006 vintage), Pyramid Valley has the home and grower collections. Weersing uses native yeast and adds very little sulfur. Depending on the wine, he ferments in stainless steel, older barrels and increasingly, amphora.

While Pyramid Valley is not the only one to make wine naturally in New Zealand, the vineyard seems to have taken it to a greater degree than most with unsurpassed results, based on complexity and age- worthiness.

Here are a few to try:

Pyramid Valley Grower Collection Pinot Blanc, 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand): If I had this wine blind, I would have pegged it for Alsatian pinot blanc, or so I’d like to think, as it has the honeysuckle and spice and tangerine I associate with pinot blanc from Alsace. Every vintage I’ve tried has been impressive, but this wine is truly astonishing. Suggested retail: $26

Pyramid Valley Riesling, Riverbrook Vineyard, 2009 (Marlborough): Weersing has been working with two riesling vineyards over the years — this and Rose, which has a slightly cooler microclimate. It is hard for me to choose one over the other, but for drinking now, I’d go with the 2009 Riverbrook. There is a hint of a little petrol in the nose at first, but it blows off in the glass, giving way to floral aromatics, green apples and fennel. Pressed on its skins for 16 hours, the wine has a lot more texture than most rieslings, allowing it to match a wider spectrum of dishes. Suggested retail: $26

Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir, Earth Smoke, 2009 (Canterbury, New Zealand): Earth Smoke is made from a small block on the home vineyard. Unfined and unfiltered, this is not a bashful wine. However, recognizing that it is pinot noir, Weersing allowed it to remain true to its delicate nature. With tobacco, dried herbs, a rusty, iron note and black-cherry fruit, there are a number of characteristics playing off one another, but in a graceful manner. Though pricey, it is one of the few pinot noirs made outside of Burgundy that is worth it. Suggested Retail: $85

Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics. 

Published: The Examiner. San Fransisco
July 27 2014