Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Postcard from Craggy Range

Craggy Range is a well-funded, model winery which acts as something of an ambassador for the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island. However, its range extends much further than just Hawkes Bay. Gimblett Gravels as a sub-zone is well named as this is a stony gravel bed created by the change in the course of the local river only 160 years ago, fortuitously placed in one of New Zealand’s warmest spots. While surrounding Hawkes Bay has 1,300 heat degree days, GG racks up 1,450, slightly warmer than Bordeaux, enabling it to ripen at least Merlot reliably and usually Cabernet Sauvignon too.  In a country dominated by white varieties, this gives the area a special vocation for reds.  Initially, the clamour was for Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blends, now Shiraz is the new kid on the block.  

Craggy Range also has a substantial vineyard (95ha of vines) in the Te Muna area of Martinborough. This allows it to make New Zealand’s typical cool climate varieties: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  In addition, it is clear that the owner Terry Peabody has an eye for visual perfection. The vineyards look great and so do the Terroir restaurant, the special fermentation hall for the top wine Sofia, not to mention the beautiful ‘cottages’ in which you can stay.  Even the showcase Chardonnay vineyard which surrounds the cellar door and restaurant is a study in visual perfection.  

Our visit was conducted by Matt Stafford, head winemaker, so we got the best of his enthusiasm for the place, for the variety of sites they have on their 100-hectare plot (that is one-eighth of the whole of Gimblett Gravels) and for a winery that has the resources to vinify plot by plot. They can run 115 ferments from their 75 parcels if that is necessary.  Nothing has been left to chance.  It’s a complex job even without taking into account the Martinborough fruit. Being head winemaker here is a great job as long as you don’t weaken!  

These substantial vineyards enable Craggy Range to offer a pretty comprehensive range of the typical wines of the southern part of New Zealand’s North Island.  Lime blossom and bright peachy Riesling, tropical fruited Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc, two expressions of Chardonnay (restrained but taut Kidnappers Vineyard, Hawkes Bay and a riper Gimblett Gravels), even before you get to the Martinborough Pinot Noirs (Te Muna and Aroha), two Shirazes (Gimblett Gravels and the super-premium Le Sol) and the Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blends Te Kahu and the super-premium Sophia (nearly 40% of the two Cabernets in the blend). These are all exemplary wines which marry ripe fruit with balance and sophistication.  

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