History of Pinot Noir

July 30th, 2014

Posted in Uncategorized, Wine Trivia


Trends in the wine industry are sometimes nonsensical and driven by outside forces like Hollywood or major press. Often however, the wine industry drives the trend for good reason based on new research or developments in industry tools. Best known for its cabernet sauvignon, the Napa Valley has been both the driving force and the one keeping up when it comes to these trends. Most recently, rosé has taken center stage. Whitehall Lane released its Cub Red to wine club members, potentially considering another rosé release down the road.

For the wine history buffs, one cannot deny the influence pinot noir has had on the industry time and again. This significant varietal remains an undeniable force in the industry, politics and at church.

The grape dates back to before the first century A.D. After invading France, the Romans noticed Gallic tribes drinking wine made from the native, wild pinot noir grape, stored in wooden casks. The Romans were surprised by the texture and unique flavors of ripe red fruit, cherries, toast and spices. The grape, mostly grown in the Burgundy region of France, became a coveted item to the Romans for more than 300 years. When the vineyards first came under control of the nobility, they were soon taken over by the Catholic Church, credited with maintaining its popularity all these years.

The Benedictine monks, specifically the Cistercians, were the first to realize vineyards in different regions produced a variety of grapes, and thus, produced different wines. They came to the conclusion that not all vineyards were created equal. Because the monks saw pinot noir vineyards as having the highest quality grapes, it became the official wine for use in the sacrament of Communion. The Burgundy region was divided into church-owned vineyards and remained under the control of the monks until the French Revolution in 1789, when the vineyards were seized and distributed to local families.

Even though the church no longer has control over the vineyards, their initial support, promotion and use of the wine set the grape up for long-term success.

The release of Sideways (2004) released by Fox Entertainment caused a dramatic shift in wine sales. The story follows two men, Miles and Jack, on a weeklong trip through Santa Ynez Valley wine country before Jack’s wedding. Miles has a strong obsession with wines, and one scene includes Miles speaking passionately on his love of pinot noir, specifically for his prized bottle of wine, a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, a pinot noir. In another scene, he speaks disparagingly about merlot. These two monologues attributed to a 20% increase in pinot noir sales, and a dramatic decrease in merlot sales.

The Burgundy region climate is crucial to the growth of the grapes. The Burgundy Region is the only region in the world where a crop is consistently grown. However, there are a few other regions that have had wild success, such as New Zealand, Oregon and California. All of the areas where pinot noir grapes are grown have similar cool and humid climates: perfect for growing the ideal pinot noir grape.

Although it is rare to blend a pinot noir, in Champagne, it is often blended with chardonnay and pinot meunier to create some of the world’s finest sparking wines.

The pinot noir grape play a rich part in European history and has made its way into popular culture. Although growing the grape proves to be difficult, its popularity has never wavered and remains, and will remain, one of the most popular and sought after wines.

Whitehall Lane’s pinot noir is a 100% pure pinot noir from the Carneros region in Napa, presenting the classic earthy balance that once attracted its initial worldwide following.