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NZ winery uses terroir ‘fingerprint’ to verify fine wine origin

New Zealand’s Pyramid Valley has partnered with a specialist forensic science company that it says can guarantee the provenance of fine wines by tracing their origins to a specific area of vineyard land.

North Canterbury-based Pyramid Valley has formed a partnership with fellow New Zealand firm Oritain, which specialises in proving the origin of different products, and said the group’s ability to ‘fingerprint’ vineyard terroir offers a way to guarantee the provenance of its fine wines.

Both partners suggested the system could contribute to preventing fine wine fraud more generally, but it’s early days.

Wines in Pyramid Valley’s 2020-vintage Botanicals Collection, featuring Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from vineyard parcels only a few metres apart, are the first to use the Oritain system. Bottle labels carry a QR code for drinkers to view the provenance guarantee.

‘We were looking for a way to provide two guarantees to our valuable customers,’ said Steve Smith MW, who bought Pyramid Valley alongside Brian Sheth in 2017. 

‘Firstly, that the wines are 100% of the place we say they come from, and secondly, providing verification of their provenance at any time in the life of a wine,’ Smith said.

He added, ‘Our partnership has provided the answers and may provide the fine wine world with a verification system that links the wine to the land absolutely – the “Oritain Fingerprint”.’ 

Oritain’s CEO, Grant Cochrane, said, ‘Our technology enables us to give the consumer the ability to trace their wine from vine to barrel to bottle. It is an important breakthrough for producers providing a level of traceability like no other.’   

This is possible by analysing the specifics of a vineyard site. ‘As a grapevine grows, it absorbs a unique ratio of elements depending on the mesoclimate, altitude, precipitation, soil type and growing conditions,’ said the two groups in a joint-statement.

This ratio is ‘imprinted’ in the grapes and Oritain is able to identify it in finished wine, they said, adding that this link back to the land ‘remains through the life of the wine, never changing’.

Pyramid Valley’s Smith added that the method also ‘supports the story of the unique terroir of each vineyard parcel sitting within the Waikari farm. We have always been able to taste the difference – today we can prove it’.

He said the winery and Oritain looked forward to ‘fine tuning’ the method through their collaboration.

Scientific researchers in different regions have looked at how chemical markers may connect wine to its place of origin. 

In Argentina, a study led by the Catena Institute looked at Malbec wines from different vineyard parcels, while a 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry investigated the concept of ‘chemical fingerprints’ linked to soil composition for three red wine styles from the country. 

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