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IN OCTOBER TOM Carson and Victoria’s Yabby Lake winery created their own little piece of history with the first Pinot Noir to win the Jimmy Watson. In the December issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker Carson looks at the story of Pinot Noir in Australia.

The oldest Australian Pinot Noir l have ever seen or tasted was a 1957 McWilliams Mount Pleasant, a wine closer to 60- than 50-years-old, still dark and brooding, didn’t taste much like Pinot Noir, but still interesting.

It was years after this, at a point l am not quite sure of, that the first commercial bottling of Pinot Noir hit the shelves. All I remember was it happened in the early ’70s.

The 1976 Tyrrells Vat 6 Hunter River Pinot Noir however hit the big time in 1980, when alongside Chateau Petrus and Romanee Conti it was named in the top 12 wines of the world by Time magazine.

The only Australian wine in the list.

Suffice to say, the Hunter Valley has not gone on to be our best region for Pinot Noir.

The true pioneers of the variety are to be found in the more moderate southern climes. John Middleton at Mount Mary, Dr Bailey Carrodus at Yarra Yering and Reg Egan from Wantirna Estate were the dynamic trio who individually established, and as such gave a rebirth to, Yarra Valley winemaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s, stemming an exodus which began as far back as 1921.

Pinot Noir was all part of their original plantings.

Fast forward to 2013 and the Royal Melbourne wine awards, the 2012 vintage Pinot Noir class had close to 150 entries and produces for the first time in their history a Jimmy Watson winning Pinot Noir.

Until then the most coveted red wine trophy in Australia had only ever been awarded to a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz.

This is surely a defining moment for all Pinot Noir lovers and a coming of age for the variety.

It has not been an easy road however. There has been plenty of skepticism, and at times outright mockery, of the variety during the red-wine boom of the 1990s, when it seemed every man and his dog was establishing a cool climate vineyard and winery and making thin, over-cropped ‘weak’ wines – and charging serious dollars for them.

Today competition in the Pinot Noir sector is fierce and you can find serious quality at just $15 and right up to $250 (or thereabouts) for the 2010 Bass Philip reserve Pinot Noir (25 dozen produced).

It is not a wine with which people start their wine appreciation with, but it is certainly the one they will end up with.

Full story in the December issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker.