When Craggy Range founder Terry Peabody set up a family wine estate in New Zealand, he established a 1000-year trust, meaning the winery can never be sold. Around 20 years after its first vintage, this dynamic winery continues to grow in both size and stature with the recent purchase of 132ha of vineyard land in the Wairarapa district of Te Muna, which will double the company’s vineyard area in that exciting region.
Craggy Range’s main area of wine production remains the Gimblett Gravels district of Hawke’s Bay, although it also has a chardonnay vineyard in coastal Hawke’s Bay at Te Awanga and a sauvignon blanc vineyard in Marlborough.
An invitation to taste Craggy Range’s new-release wines was readily accepted. The top vintages were the 2019 and 2020, and the flagship chardonnay, the 2019 Les Beaux Cailloux, was now available after the vineyard where the LBC grapes were grown was replanted following a virus infection. I expected great things.
My visit started with a tour of the newly expanded Te Muna vineyard. Te Muna is a satellite of Martinborough’s famed gravel-strewn terraces. They share similar soils, but Te Muna is typically slightly cooler.
Craggy Range Te Muna Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc both have distinctive characters that I find hard to describe but easy to recognise. The 2019 Te Muna Riesling is intense, with just a hint of sweetness and orange blossom and oyster shell characters. It’s a snip at $31.95. The Te Muna 2020 Sauvignon Blanc is more intense and textural than the Marlborough model, with blackcurrant bud and wet stone characters. A portion was barrel fermented, which helps explain the extra weight and richness. This is serious sauvignon blanc, and a good buy at $26.95.
Te Muna Pinot Noir is less distinctive than the Te Muna whites, though no less delicious. I recall “discovering” it in a Melbourne restaurant when I ordered a bottle of Craggy Range 2008 Te Muna Pinot Noir and it made a magnificent match with the meal. I’ve been a big fan ever since. The 2019 Te Muna Pinot Noir is a slightly more robust and age-worthy wine than the 2008, with an appealing savoury edge to intense fruit flavours. At $49.95 it arguably represents better value than Craggy Range’s flagship pinot noir, the 2019 Te Muna Road Aroha, which has a price tag of $150. This is a truly magnificent wine that promises to get even better with bottle age.
Rockstar winemaker Julian Grounds (pictured above), who joined Craggy Range in January 2019, is an irrepressible enthusiast. Although obviously excited by the quality of the 2019 Aroha, he believes that the 2020 Aroha is even better. We tasted five components for the “as yet unblended” 2020 Aroha to help assess the quality of that vintage.
I generally avoid commenting on barrel samples because they represent work in progress. However, they were all so unbelievably delicious that I feel it would be irresponsible of me not to share the good news with you. I can say with a high degree of confidence that the Craggy Range 2020 Te Muna Road Aroha will be a truly magnificent pinot noir when it is blended and bottled and has had time to recover from the experience.
Also deserving “magnificent” status is the Craggy Range 2019 Les Beaux Cailloux, $150. This chardonnay was out of action for a few years after the virus hit the LBC vineyard, but the 2019 is better than ever.
Bob's Top Picks
Craggy Range 2019 Te Muna Road Aroha Pinot Noir, Martinborough $150
Made from blocks 9, 10 and 16 using 60% whole bunches in the ferment and with 14 months in barrel. Intense and utterly delicious pinot noir with a haunting perfume and silky tannins. Plum and cherry interwoven with floral/violet and a subtle savoury character. Refined power. Limited Edition. Very collectible.
Craggy Range 2019 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Chardonnay, $39.95
Richer, more robust chardonnay than its younger sibling from the Kidnappers vineyard. Weighty wine with citrus/grapefruit, fresh baguette, peacherine and spicy oak flavours. Good now, even better in a few years.
Craggy Range 2019 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah, $39.95
Trophy winner at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Show. Dense syrah with red-fleshed plum, cassis, a hint of floral and black pepper. It sits on the cusp between blockbuster and finesse, with a nod in both directions. Graphite tannins. Great now but will age.
Read more from Bob at therealreview.com