Tue 01 Mar 2016

Craggy Range: Where Would You Plant a Vineyard?

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If you could choose to plant a vineyard, build the perfect winery and make wine anywhere in the world, where would you do it?

Terry Peabody of Craggy Range was faced with that exact dilemma and it came about in a most unusual way.

Terry Peabody, Chairman of Craggy Range, on his recent visit to The Society

Terry Peabody, Chairman of Craggy Range, on his recent visit to The Society

The majority of winemakers and property owners have a history with wine, be it via family businesses passed down through generations or growing up surrounded by the vine, more often than not it’s in their blood, it’s an intangible connection to the soil, grape and barrel. Terry Peabody was born on the island of Guam in Micronesia, not exactly renowned for its viticultural heritage.

It was actually Terry’s wife and daughter who convinced him that while his considerable business interests in the construction and trucking industries across Asia and North America were all well and good (and profitable), it wasn’t something that they felt they could be part of.

Wine however was a different story, and so in 1993 over a long leisurely dinner they set about convincing Terry that the legacy he should build for his family (and what a family – he has 11 grandchildren!) should be in wine. And so began the search for the perfect location to literally put down roots.

As a fan of the wines of Bordeaux it seemed like a good a place as any to start. Land prices of a million euros per hectare and upwards, combined with as Terry puts it, ‘a wine industry that has regulations for regulations’ diminished the attraction somewhat.

Born an American and now with Australian citizenship, it’s not surprising that Terry looked to these countries next. California’s Napa Valley was a candidate for a while as was Western Australia, whose wines were much closer the Bordeaux style Terry admired. But California had much the same issues as Bordeaux and Western Australia would still mean a six-hour trip from his home, so these were rejected too.

As is often the case with these things, just when you are about to give up on a project, fate steps in.

The Craggy Range winery

The Craggy Range winery

It was one of his other businesses, trucking, that took him to New Zealand and when word got around that Terry was interested in starting a winery, it wasn’t long before he was taken on a tour of the country’s winelands and was introduced to local winemaker and Kiwi Master of Wine Steve Smith.

A meeting of minds ensued; based on the principle that a wine should be a true reflection of the terroir it was born from, and Steve Smith was ahead of the pack in having his nose to the ground for where the best new terroirs might be. And so, the land of the long white cloud was settled upon to be home to Craggy Range.

Today New Zealand sauvignon blanc is established as a modern classic but even back in the mid-nineties, way before its omnipresence on the world’s wine lists, it was already a hot ticket. Craggy Range certainly didn’t have any problems selling all the sauvignon blanc they could make back then, but it was never their sole focus, despite its obvious commercial success. Their aim was to tell the story of New Zealand’s red wines. The natural starting point for this venture was in warmer Hawke’s Bay and in the Gimblett Gravels, specifically. Here Craggy Range started its first vineyard and built a state-of-the-art winery.

Craggy Range vines

160 years ago the Gimblett Gravels region of Hawke’s Bay looked quite different, mainly because it was underwater! Earthquake activity had caused the Ngaruroro river to flood, covering the surrounding plains, when the waters subsided, the river had changed its course leaving behind the gravel.

In fact it was a bit of a head scratcher for those in the region. The soil was poor and unproductive with it apparently taking about three acres of land just to feed one sheep, its only foreseeable future was to be mined by a concrete company who had bought 150ha to dig for gravel.

Hardly the stuff of legends. But with the gravel the waters had left rich mineral deposits, and slowly from the mid-1970s onwards, and after a few legal battles between local farmers and the concrete company, the idea of planting vines, particularly red grape varieties, in the area began to take hold. Steve Smith MW was quick to notice the similarity between the terroir here and those of Bordeaux’s illustrious vineyards.

Perfect for merlot, he rightly deduced. In fact, Hawke’s Bay has become the home of Bordeaux-style blends in New Zealand and the syrah grape does particularly well here too.

As an area under vine, the Gimblet Gravels is still in its infancy. Craggy Range planted their first vines here in 1996 and if wines tried at a recent tasting can exhibit the class sophistication and elegance, balanced with structure and fruit from vines that are only just 20 years then a very bright future lies ahead. To paraphrase a heavily used marketing slogan in the 90s, ‘the future’s bright, the future’s red!’

The Society's Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red

We have championed the wines of Craggy Range for a long time and were delighted to work with them on our first Exhibition-label Hawke’s Bay Red, especially as it comes from the 2013 vintage – their best yet.

It’s made from majority merlot with cabernet sauvignon and malbec in support, plus a little cabernet franc. Having spent a year and a half in French oak barrels plus a further year in bottle to polish the rich, ripe fruit, it is showing great class. ‘The idea with this wine,’ Terry says, ‘is to make a bottle that you can crack open straight away or cellar for 10 years if you wish.’

Having tried the wine recently, when Terry came into to talk to staff at Stevenage, I think you’d be hard pushed to keep your hands off it for 10 years!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

The new Exhibition Hawke’s Bay Red 2013 is available now at the introductory price of £11.95 (instead of £12.95) until Sunday 10th April.

Categories : New Zealand

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