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Craggy Range – Quality Showcase

By May 24, 2017No Comments
From the very beginning, Craggy Range has been about showcasing the best quality wine. The Peabody family and Steve Smith MW very quickly put the name and the wines on the minds of wine enthusiasts in New Zealand and overseas. Sue and I were among the 6,000 plus people invited to the opening of The Giants winery on Waimarama Road just out of Havelock North in January 2003. It was a truly a night of giants with guest contributions from entertainer Tim Finn, opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Mt. Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary. The Giants Winery and ‘Terroir’ restaurant were commissioned, and along with the first releases of wine, everything was perfect. I doubt anyone attending will ever forget that afternoon and evening

Since then, Craggy Range has gone with the swings of the industry both domestically and globally, but always at the top level. The flagship wines, the ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay, ‘Aroha’ Pinot Noir, the ‘Sophia’ Merlot-based wine, ‘The Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine, and ‘Le Sol’ Syrah have been standard setters for New Zealand wine. The initial releases were indeed ‘show wines’, bold and built to impress, but over time, they have been guided to greater finesse, and in my opinion, better for it. The ‘Prestige Collection’ wines, the ‘Aroha’, ‘Sophia’ and ‘Le Sol’, are simply stunning (click here to see my reviews of the 2014 vintages). The 2015 vintages have just been released, and I will have my reviews of them in due course.

Much is the same as the beginning, the Peabody family energy and enthusiasm driving the company forward. But inevitably there have been changes. Steve Smith MW left full-time employment in 2015, and the thoughtful and detailed Matt Stafford is now the chief winemaker, with Daniel Watson the national vineyard manager. The CEO is Michael Wilding and general manager Aaron Drummond. On the ‘Prestige’ wine front. ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ is in a hiatus, due to virused vines, and ‘The Quarry’ is made only in vintages when Cabernet Sauvignon is exceptional. For a period, Craggy Range was sourcing fruit from vineyards through the country, but now concentrate their efforts on their sizeable estates in the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, and Te Muna in Martinborough, with a little extra from their Kidnappers site in Hawke’s Bay and the Avery vineyard in Marlborough. www.craggyrange.com

Katrina Allen – Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard manager
(you get a lovely ute if you do a great job!)
A Visit to the S.H. 50 Winery and Vineyards
Most people who visit Craggy Range go to The Giants winery complex on Waimarama Road where the cellar door and Terroir restaurant are also sited. It is an impressive showpiece. Although the winery there is fully functional, most of the winemaking and storage is at Craggy Range’s winery at the end of Mere Road off S.H. 50 in the Gimblett Gravels, set amidst their vineyard. I have been there a number of times, but my partner Sue had not. We arranged a visit (appointment only) with the delightful Hannah Burns, Brand Manager for Craggy Range, for a tour of the vineyards and a tasting of 2017 wine at the S.H. 50 winery, to get a further picture of the vintage that has been deemed extremely challenging.

Upon arriving at the winery, we were met by Katrina Allen, the Gimblett Gravels Vineyard manager, with Craggy Range now for 30 months, and with extensive experience in Hawke’s Bay. The estate is approx. 100 ha, with 79 ha planted to vine. Merlot makes up nearly 40% of the vines, and Syrah has seen a major upsize, now accounting for nearly 25% of the plantings. The 4 ha of Chardonnay is just over 5% of the total. Katrina took us for a drive around the various blocks where we could see the subtle undulation, and different aspects and soils. There is constant replanting to new material, replacing vines or varieties not performing as desired. The new Chardonnay plants replacing the virussed ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ vines are coming into maturity, so we could see the return of this sought-after label soon. Katrina pointed out the 10 new frost fans, which provide 60% protection of the company’s blocks, the other 40% protected by water. My observation was that the various blocks are extremely well looked after.

Sue Davies, Wine2Trade & Hannah Burns, Craggy Range

Tasting the 2017 Wines
Following the vineyard tour, Hannah introduced us to winemaker Nev McPike, who has now completed his seventh vintage at Craggy Range. Nev showed us around the winery, which is still very much state-of-the-art. The white wine winery was bristling with stainless-steel tanks, and the red wine cuverie split into Bordeaux-style and Pinot Noir/Syrah production. (Some of the Bordeaux variety ferments for Sophia are handled at ‘The Giants’ winery.) There were barrel halls in each section for the different styles of wines. We then proceeded to taste the 2017 wines. Here are my notes.

The Whites
We worked through a range of Sauvignon Blancs, from Marlborough and Martinborough, demonstrating the effect of barrel fermentation, then Hawke’s Bay Chardonnays showing site expression. All looked sound and of good quality, showing ‘terroir’ as well as winemaking style and inputs to make the desired wines, as usual.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Tank Sample
This us fresh, bright and zingy with good passionfruit aromas and flavours. Lovely elegant and refreshing already. Not a blockbuster, but more classical.

Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Tank Sample
A tank-fermented sample. Herbaceous and fruit aromas with a little fermentation and reduction stinkiness. But clearly richer and weightier om palate. A more textural expression than the Marlborough wine.

Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2013 barrel, indigenous yeast. Quite exotic and lifted on nose. Still some unfermented sugar. Rounded on palate, with weight, retaining good acidity. This already has some interesting detail.

Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Barrel Sample
From a puncheon. This has aromatic and lifted fruit as the feature on the nose. Good gooseberry and riper green stonefruits on palate, with balanced acidity. The phenolics are stronger. Clearly this will be a textural component in the blend.

‘Block 19’ Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2015 barrel. Lovely citrussy fruit, with mealy complexities. Quite fresh and lively on palate, tightly bound grapefruit flavours enlivened by the acidity. The palate is guided by fine-gained phenolics.

‘Block 15’ ‘Kidnappers’ Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2013 puncheon. Normally a 50/20 tank/barrel blend. The nose has savoury citrus fruit aromas. On palate there is zesty acidity and mineral flavours with white stonefruits and florals. Typical saline flavours for a ‘coastal’ wine.

‘Kidnappers’ Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Sample
From a new barrel. Quite toasty, the oak showing, also flinty on the nose. Still with unfermented sugars, but the toasty oak and flinty core characters come through clearly. This has richness of flavour and freshness.

Nev McPike, Craggy Range winemaker

The Reds
We tasted the samples in a varietal sequence out of order, due to the logistics, so we didn’t have to criss-cross the winery. Of course, as professionals, we (said) we could handle it! Some lovely wines here, showing no weakness. The Martinborough Pinot Noirs (all generally 30-40% whole cluster) looked the strongest and the Bordeaux varietals a success. If Syrah was affected by the rain, we saw little evidence of it. Clearly the picking was selective, so some excellence will result.

‘Block 10’ Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2015 barrel. Impenetrable black-purple colour. This has black fruits, black pepper, some violet florals and perfumed lift, unfolding some reduction. On the pate the grip is fine and tight and the acid freshness shows its youth. A very successful wine.

‘Block 14’ Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2017 Barrel Sample
I missed the age of the barrel here, but not new. Soft on nose, this has beautiful aromatics. Ripe blackberry fruit with florals herbs and slight reduction unfolding. A more elegant rendition, with good tight core and lovely acid freshness. Crisp mouthfeel.

‘Block 14’ Syrah Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2017 Barrel Sample
Same as previous, but on different rootstock (which I didn’t record). Very refined in expression, tight and elegant aromatics, fruit, pepper, florals and minerals. Blackberries and dark raspberries, with fine tannin extraction and poise from crisp acidity. A refined wine in its own right.

‘Block 32’ Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2017 Barrel Sample
Clone 481. Very dark colour. The nose shows tight dark plum and berry aromas, still very primary. On palate, elegant, tightly bound again, and firm, showing restrained fruit expression, though well-ripened with black plums and dark-red berryfruit.

‘Block 32’ Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2017 Barrel Sample
A different batch. Soft aromatics, though showing some reduction and herbiness. Soft on palate with a brooding core. Plum flavours. You know this will show much more. The tannins and acidity in good balance.

‘Block 31’ Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Franc 2017 Barrel Sample
Distinctly floral with redcurrants, and underneath there are black fruits. Tightly bound on palate, very fine-textured, redcurrant and herb flavours, enhanced and lifted by the acidity.

‘Block 35’ Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Barrel Sample
Impenetrable colour. Beautifully pure and intense blackcurrant fruit and cassis liqueur aromatics. About as good as it gets? Very fine-grained on palate with pure and deliciously rich blackcurrant and cassis flavours. Poised acidity. This is just lovely.

‘Block 25’ Te Muna Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
Clone 115. Dark colour. Full, soft aromas of ripe, dark-red berry fruit and plums, very expressive on nose. Tighter on palate with some fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins. Classical Pinot Noir.

‘Block 9’ Te Muna Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
Clone 114, 40% whole cluster. Full on nose with edgy berry fruit, some plums with nuances of fresh herbs. Also very firm and tightly bound on palate, the acidity quite crisp and lively.

‘Block 10’ Te Muna Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
Clone 667. Fulsome with rich, ripe fruit on nose. Plush on palate, juicy and rich, with ripe plum and berry fruit, quite open and accessible, the tannins in the background and acidity softer, more integrated.

‘Block 16’ Te Muna Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
Clone 114, 40% whole bunch. Light, but finely fragrant on nose, soft red floral perfumes. On palate an elegant wine with bright aromatic berry fruit and florals, possessing fresh, nervy acidity and refined tannins.

‘Block 19’ Te Muna Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
Abel clone, with 35% whole bunches. Classical savoury dark red berry fruit with stalk notes. Not herbaceous, but complexity. Rich fruited on palate with deep, rich fruit, savoury and spicy. Quite plush and plenty of weight and palate presence. Good tannin grip.

Following the vineyard tour and tasting, we concluded with a wonderful, thought-provoking lunch from Kent Baddeley at ‘1024’ on Pakowhai Road. The food was accompanied by a Craggy Range ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay 2009. The wine showed richness and complexity, the product of a warm and dry vintage. It was beginning to show development flavours of nuts and burgundian oxidative elements. A treat to finish off a special visit. Thank you Hannah for your hospitality and arranging the visit!

Craggy Range – Pinot Noir cuverie


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