A friend and fellow “Pinotphile” put me onto Steve Naughton and his company, Pinot NOW, a few months back. My friend was raving about a couple of Oregon Pinots and relying on my experience, I was more than just a little sceptical. Talking to Steve, he convinced me to buy a couple of bottles, and the surprise was entirely mine and totally terrific. The quality of the wines was outstanding and naturally, my curiosity was aroused. A short time later I spotted a write up of Steve Naughton and Pinot NOW by James Halliday in the Sunday papers, so it was apparent that Steve was doing a lot right. I managed to steal a bit of Steve’s time and ask him some questions:
1) Your e-mail signature line says: “Passionate about Pinot” and I have met you through Pinot. Why this fascination with Pinot?
It is not just I! People are passionate about pinot in a way that they’re not about any other varietal. Lovers of pinot call themselves (perhaps a bit unfortunately) “Pinotphiles”. Many winemakers see the production of a quality pinot as their aspirational ‘holy grail’.
I think there are a number of reasons for this unity of passion. Pinot is notoriously difficult to grow and make. Every viticultural and winemaking decision seems to take on added complexities when it comes to working with pinot. Its fickleness is why it has been called “the heartbreak grape”. The window of opportunity for favourable growing conditions and margin for error in winemaking practices is far narrower than for any other grape variety. Problems are much harder, or even impossible to mask or adjust. For all these reasons, winemakers and pinotphiles know to expect frequent disappointment. However, when everything goes right in the vineyard and in the winery, the pinot grape makes wines that are like nothing else. A pinot from a good vintage in Burgundy demonstrates all that needs to be said about passion in a glass.
It is also a great food wine; in fact, you don’t really know a bottle of pinot until you drink it with a meal, watching it change in the glass. It can age very well. I have drunk 40-year-old Burgundies that still had time to go. I think it reflects the terroir more than any other grape…
I’m talking about pinot noir specifically, but we also handle other pinot varietals – some great Pinot Gris from Oregon for example, and we recently had listed a sensational Pinotage from New Zealand.
Pinot is not the first passion in your life, tell us more
about yourself, your passions and why the change in direction?
I have long had an interest in great food and wine. Pinot NOW started as a hobby competing for time with distance running. (A fitness-related hobby is a necessary adjunct to a hobby, which involves a lot of eating and drinking.) This, together with the demands and responsibilities of a career in the IT industry with one of the major banks, as well as the pressures and pleasures of a full family life, pretty much combined to fill a 24 hour day.
Once I accepted the fact that I also had to fit some sleeping hours into the mix, I realised I had to make a decision either to get serious about the wine business or to drop it all together – or get divorced! Therefore, early in the New Year, I took the leap of faith, followed my passion instead of the fortnightly pay cheque and entered into the world of small business on a full time basis.
What made you look for Pinots in the US first and only then
turn your attention to the domestic market?
Oregon pinot – and the lack of it in Australia – was my original motivation for getting into the business. It was actually whilst in the USA, following an activity related to my other hobby – running in the New York Marathon – that I was first introduced to Oregon pinot. I had an opportunity to taste a range of Oregon wines and was knocked out by the quality – and frustrated that I could not buy them at home. I decided to have a go at changing that.
Having a unique product was also a great way of getting into the market. It turned out that there were many pinot lovers who had heard about Oregon; some had even seen the wines, but, like me, had not been able to find a source for them. So, it got us some attention up front from pinotphiles who have now become customers across the range.
Having achieved some recognition as a provider of outstanding and exotic pinot from Oregon, I then turned my attention to wines of similar standing and status – i.e. rare and hard to get pinots of grace, elegance and finesse from established and emerging regions around the world. The rapidly developing quality profiles of New Zealand and Tasmania, together with a significant under representation of many dedicated small producers, made these regions a natural fit for our portfolio.
With just a few notable exceptions, Australian pinot producers have given some of their overseas competitors a head start in the production of world-class pinots. That is no longer the case. The rapid rise being seen in the quality of pinot across many appellations shows that Australia is catching up fast. I am looking forward to continuing to build my portfolio with Aussie pinots that fit the Pinot NOW quality profile.
What does the future hold? Where is Steve Naughton and Pinot
NOW going from here?
In the medium term I’m aiming to consolidate Pinot NOW’s position as a premier source of new world pinot – which means finding the best wines – at all price points - from around the world, and persuading the makers to part with some. As our reputation as a pinot specialist grows, this is becoming easier.
For example, our latest shipment from Oregon that is currently on a boat somewhere in the Pacific contains a range of the very best wines from some more of the very best producers in the region. These are wines, made in tiny quantities that sell out to the Wineries’ private mailing list customers months prior to release. The wines are genuinely as rare as hen’s teeth throughout the world. The reason we have any at all is because these producers invited me to purchase… no persuasion was necessary. I consider this evolution of my relationship with prospective suppliers (similar examples are beginning to happen with New Zealand and Australian producers) as a significant vote of confidence and a turning point (literally) for Pinot NOW.
Along with an expanding Australian portfolio, I am also looking at other New World regions, which are emerging as serious pinot producers. These include the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, New York’s Long Island, the Casablanca Valley of Chile and South Africa’s Hemel-En-Aarde Valley (in fact, on a boat bound for Melbourne at this moment, is a tiny quantity of an internationally awarded 2000 vintage Pinot Noir – possibly the last couple of cases available anywhere in the world – from renowned South African producer Bouchard Finlayson.) I expect unique offers such as this to become a regular occurrence as I build my relationships with the world’s pinot producers.
Oh, I also have my scouts out in Burgundy….
How does one go about obtaining some of your fabulous Pinots?
Our retail operation is based around email, which enables us to keep overheads well down. All you need to do is to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask to be put on our mailing list. I can then keep you posted on new wines as they become available. I keep a list on our website www.pinotnow.com.au, but some wines sell out to our mailing list before they make it there.
Pinot Now also distributes on a wholesale basis to licensed members of the trade. As a Melbourne based company, our wholesale activities have, to date, focussed predominantly on Melbourne’s restaurants and specialty retailers. However, with just one or two exceptions, our entire list is available for distribution nation-wide. Currently the web site is oriented to the retail market, so trade enquiries should be directed to me by email (as above), fax (03 9329 2049), or Phone (03 9329 4243).
Thanks Steve for your time and effort in giving us a glimpse of yourself and your company.