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Stonyridge – The Icon

By May 10, 2012No Comments

Stonyridge Vineyard is a true icon. Created by Stephen White with the first vines planted in 1982, the Stonyridge ‘Larose’ Bordeaux-varietal wine was first released with the 1985 vintage. The 1987 wine is now regarded as one of the landmark wines of New Zealand and Stonyridge ‘Larose’ vies with Te Mata ‘Coleraine’ as the label proving that world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wine can be consistently made in this country.

Like all icons, the Stonyridge image is one of greatness, and often, coming face-to-face with the real thing can be surprising with a true icon’s naturalness and modesty. Such is the case when visiting Stonyridge Vineyard on Onetangi Road. It’s absolutely tiny. While the cellar door, café and estate land seems well laid out and spacious, it’s only when you look at the vineyard and winery that you can see how small it really is. Stonyridge’s winemaker Martin Pickering took us to a vantage spot to see the lay of the land. The vineyard measures only 6 ha, and is now planted to all six Bordeaux varieties: The ‘nearly-lost’ Carmenere now joining Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Syrah is a successful vine there, and Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Viognier also planted. The site is touted to be the most protected and favourable on the Island and is neighboured by Te Motu, with Obsidian over the next ridge to the north and SOHO to the south-west very visible.

These vines result in an average of 60 barrels of Stonyridge ‘Larose’ annually. The 1,500 cases are essentially pre-sold to a waiting list, though a limited amount of wine can be tasted, drunk or purchased at the vineyard. Even at $220.00 a bottle, there is no let-up on the demand. Stonyridge’s organically farmed ‘Vina del Mar’ vineyard further along Onetangi Road provides fruit for the ‘Luna Negra’ Malbec wine and completing the premium estate releases is the ‘Pilgrim’ Rhone-varietal blend. The second tier ‘Airfield’ and third tier ‘Faithful’ are from estate fruit, and also made on site are the ‘Hawkesby’ from John Hawkesby’s Malbec fruit and Chardonnay from Church Bay. To offer affordability and accessibility, the ‘Fallen Angel’ range of wines, made off-site, are sold at the cellar door and café.

Martin then took us into the winery. Again the compactness shocked us. It’s about the same size as Dry River’s tiny winery (another icon!), but it handles the 40 tonnes of fruit that comes in, 25-30 tonnes of it estate in origin, and the output is a total of around 2,000 cases every year. There’s just enough room for Martin and his slim-framed assistant Ethan MacDonald to work together without tripping over each other. Ethan’s nickname is ‘Little Mac’ – his father was ‘Big Mac’! Ethan has the upper hand over Martin in that he has been there since the start of 2010 and knows where everything is, whereas Martin arrived at Stonyridge in the middle of 2011. Don’t be misled into thinking it’s a new crew, as both men are well-experienced, Martin working with Waiheke wine for 17 years, his previous role being 7 years as Mudbrick’s winemaker.
Tasting 2012 Juice and Current Stonyridge Wines
Martin and Ethan were extremely pleased with what came in from the 2012 harvest. The ripening caught up due to the warmth at the end of the growing season. The impression is that the 2012s will be fleshy and fruity, with a pleasing approachability. This was confirmed by barrel samples of ‘Vina’ Malbec 2012, with its up-front dark boysenberry fruit and bright acidity. A Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend 2012 was silky smooth and displayed refined dark red fruits. Another barrel of Merlot 2012 exhibited particularly sweet and ripe red berry fruit flavours with purity. And a Malbec 2012 wonderfully fragrant, lifted by some new oak spicing, but supple and juicy.

We tasted the current release premium estate wines. The Stonyridge ‘Luna Negra’ 2009, 100% Malbec aged totally in American oak had concentrated black fruits with excellent spicing from the oak and distinctive earthy varietal interest. The richness had an essence-like quality, yet this was poised and fine, the acidity providing the necessary balance. The Stonyridge ‘Pilgrim’ 2010 is a Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache blend with just 1% each of Cinsault and Viognier included. Surprisingly restrained and showing a degree of elegance, if not finesse, this is a wine that subtly builds in richness, texture and nuance. Wild berry, floral notes and a milk-chocolate underlay appear. Mourvedre seems to be performing well, but the Grenache and Cinsault may not last long in the mix. And finally the big one, Stonyridge ‘Larose’ 2008, beautifully refined and elegantly proportioned, but with great structure and extraction that grows to demand full attention. The tannins are seamless at first, but the power becomes evident. Wonderful acidity and poise, the balance quite a sensation. Classical Bordeaux in expression, I’m thinking modern Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Although Stephen White trained in Margaux, I’m sure he’d be happy with this comparison. www.stonyridge.co.nz

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