New Zealand represents a fascinating collision of old and new. This assembly of Polynesian islands contrasts primordial glaciers and volcanoes with modern cities and farms, the ancient indigenous traditions of the Maori people with the buttoned-up Britishness introduced to this far-off land when the Empire declared it a crown colony in 1840. Extremes manifest themselves in the country’s wines as well: Though the first vineyards were planted in 1819 (well before Britannia ruled the territory) by one Reverend Samuel Marsden in the Northland area of the North Island, only in recent decades have the region’s wines achieved a critical mass of critical favor. In 1989, New Zealand’s wine production stood at slightly less than 690,000 gallons; a decade later, its output was 4.4 million gallons of wine. With this growth came significant improvements in the quality of the wines, and in 1998, in this general climate of oenological optimism, viticulturist Steve Smith and Australian businessman Terry Peabody founded Craggy Range Winery, a boutique concern devoted to producing single-vineyard wines from the Hawkes Bay region.
The area was home to New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate, established in 1851, but it was the stony soil and intense heat—rather than pedigree—that attracted Smith and Peabody. The terroir—the imprint of soil and climate on the texture, scent, flavor, and overall quality of the wine—has always been foremost among Smith’s priorities, and within the Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Smith, a Master of Wine and the company’s wine and viticulture director, painstakingly defined certain blocks where particular varietals could best exploit the conditions. The early vintages of Craggy Range were made from sourced fruit, and so only with the 2002 vintage was Smith’s belief that the property had the potential to yield wines of an exquisite character finally vindicated. The overall exceptional quality of the vintage inspired Smith and his team to release three single-parcel wines as their Prestige Collection, which garnered high praise from Robert M. Parker, Michael Broadbent, and Robb Report, which named the 2002 Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay as one of 2005’s best international white wines (see Robb Report, June 2005).
The Prestige Collection, which is only made in superb vintages, reappears with the release of the 2004 suite this spring. The 2004 Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay comes from the stoniest section of the Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, where Smith has planted several Dijon clones, each of which is picked and vinified separately. A perfect example of what some are saying may be the best vintage for Hawkes Bay Chardonnay in over a decade, the 2004 represents a magnificently textured wine that eschews the excessive fruitiness of many other New World whites in favor of a more restrained composition that balances granite minerality with intense citrus and light peach.
The 2004 Le Sol Syrah was the last to be harvested in that year, and the berries, when picked, were shrunken and very intense in flavor. The result is a Syrah rather Rhône-like in style: The blackberry fruit does not overpower the subtler, smoky strain of black licorice, which lingers long before giving way to a peppery finale.
The third wine in the Prestige Collection, the 2004 Sophia, is a powerful and richly textured Merlot blend. While the 2002 vintage, which Parker declared “could easily be mistaken for Cheval Blanc,” contained 63 percent Merlot, 27 percent Cabernet Franc, 8 percent Malbec, and 2 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, this latest release represents a far less complex formula containing 92 percent Merlot, 7 percent Cabernet Franc, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The result is a sultry mélange of black fruit and delicate spice that coats the palate enticingly.
To celebrate this trio of wines, Craggy Range has created a prerelease Prestige Collection Gift Box ($390 including shipping) available exclusively to Robb Report readers through Park Avenue Liquor. Each handcrafted, solid cherry box is embossed in copper with the Craggy Range logo and contains two bottles each of 2004 Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay, 2004 Le Sol Syrah, and 2004 Sophia Merlot. Production of these collector’s boxes is limited to 200 and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Founded in 1998, Craggy Range represents the state of the art in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay winemaking region.
Craggy Range 2004 Prestige Collection Gift Box Park Avenue Liquor