If you’ve been to Hawke’s Bay and you haven’t been to the Craggy Range cellar door, you’ve missed a trick. It’s possibly one of the most magestic backdrops you’ll find, sitting sipping their delicious wine amid the vineyard glancing up at Te Mata Peak and the infamous, Craggy mountain range across the Tukituki River, which gave the winery its name.
You can see why Terry Peabody and his wife Mary fell in love with this spot back in 1993 after a search for the perfect vineyard location around the world, led them to New Zealand. Gimblet Gravels was the spot where they decided to establish their first family vineyard, a legacy that they plan to keep in the family for future genrations. They laid their vines, on top of an ancient river bed of the Ngaruroa River. Craggy Range wines as born. They now have vineyards in both Martinborough and Marlbourgh as well and have become one of New Zealand’s preminent wine labels.
We talked this month to chief winemaker, Matt Stafford, to find out a bit more about what makes Craggy Range wines so special.
Why did the Peabody family choose Hawke’s Bay for the winery?
After a search for vineyard locations in France, America and Australia, they finally settled on Gimblett Gravels as the place to set down their roots. The Gimblett Gravels winegrowing district resulted from a flood in 1876 when the Ngaruroro River changed its course and a vista of gravel was left behind. The area is a place of warmth, stone and sandy alluvial soils. This unique combination alongside the perfect climatic conditions, long sunshine hours, the right humidity and rainfall, make it the perfect location to create high quality red wines – Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; along with Chardonnay.
We also have a vineyard at Cape Kidnappers, on the coastline at Te Awanga where the spring and autumns are warm and sunny and the summer is tempered by the cooling sea breeze. Its ideal location for making great cool climate styled Chardonnay.
Where are the other Craggy Range vineyards?
As well as Hawke’s Bay, we have vineyards in Martinborough and Marlbourgh. The Martinborough site is a spectacular piece of farmland on Te Muna Road. The site has two very distinct terraces, the higher comprising of very old rocky clay-infused soils perfect for Pinot Noir. The lower terrace of younger gravelly soils interleaved with limestone allowed for a unique style of aromatic, minerally Sauvignon Blanc.
Our Avery Vineyard is located in one of the warmest locations in Marlborough, being some 15km from the sea it is away from the coolest of the sea breezes, and being surrounded by the Richmond Ranges and Wither Hills, we are fortunate to be in the rain shadow, meaning we are protected from the rain.
What characteristics do the different sites bring to the wine?
Very simply the young gravelly soils of the Gimblett Gravels vineyards give our red wines lifted pure black fruit aromatics with a unique sandalwood character and fine dusty tannins. The seaside location of our Kidnappers vineyard benefits from the cooling effect of the ocean creating a crisp, fresh and almost saline like quality within the Chardonnay.
The earthy nature of Martinborough Pinot Noir wines is a factor of the complex ancient river terrace identified in the late 1970s – it’s an ideal area for growing Pinot Noir in NZ. Our Sauvignon Blanc from Te Muna is on a different younger soil type where we have river gravels interacting with some hunks of limestone to give a wine of subtlety and a lovely chalky finish.
Our Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc sums up everything there is to love about Sauvignon Blanc from NZ’s most iconic region. The alluvial soils and maritime climate provide wines with intense yet unique characters that the world has fallen for.
How do the different vineyards effect the finished wine?
We are still learning about our vineyards and experiment a lot with clones and rootstocks to ensure that once we achieve the ideal level of vine age that we are best expressing the vineyard in its entirety. The nuances of soil and the individual microclimates mean that each parcel of vines needs to achieve its own balance and this will mean yields, depth of flavour and chemical balance within the grapes can amazingly differ within the vineyards from row to row. When we then compare vineyard with vineyard these differences are magnified.
What makes the Craggy Range wines so unique?
Our focus on the unique qualities that an individual vineyard or parcel of grapes can bring to
a finished wine forms very true expressions.
How did you make your way to Craggy Range?
I first came into contact with Craggy Range when I was studying soil science at Lincoln University in 2002. I was looking at how relevant the French concept of “terroir” was to NZ grape growers and winemakers at the time and one of the first people came into contact with was Viticulturist and Founding Director of Craggy Range, Steve Smith MW. My passion for wine was ignited during my research, and after studying viticulture and oenology, and working on harvests around the world, I came back to Craggy Range at the beginning of 2006.
What have you learnt from the other countries you’ve travelled to about wine?
The history behind grape growing in countries such as France is hugely powerful. Their decision making has been shaped over centuries of experience and there is an effortlessness to their sense of being. We need to build our unique stories to allow our wines to earn their place and sit comfortably on dining tables around the world.
Picking wine can be a bit daunting for some people. What tips can you provide Farro customers for selecting wine?
Drink what you enjoy but go for quality over quantity.
What’s your favourite wine memory?
Every time I taste our wine within a Michelin starred restaurant it is very humbling and special.