The story behind the creation of New Zealand’s Craggy Range Vineyards has probably gotten a bit mythologized; it’s sometimes hard to tell truth from really good PR work. However, this much is certainly true: In 1986, Terry Peabody—one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs, with a global network of waste-management and transportation companies—was talked into going into the wine business by his wife, Mary, and daughter Mary-Jeanne over dinner. But there were strings attached: The company must never be sold and must be allowed to remain as a family business and legacy.
If you know anything about Terry Peabody, you know that he doesn’t do anything halfway. So, he set out on a mission to find the world’s best vineyards, not originally even thinking about New Zealand. But a fateful introduction to New Zealand viticulturist Steve Smith—who’d just been named by Decanter magazine as one of the 50 most influential people in the world of wine—caused Peabody to look closely at New Zealand as the place to “not merely emulate the greatest examples of wine styles in the world,” but to go beyond that mission. Peabody wanted nothing less than “to create new benchmarks with wines that would become internationally known as the New World classics.”
How’s that goal coming along? Well, I have to say that I tasted my way through a broad spectrum of Craggy Range wines recently—from Sauvignon Blanc to Syrah—and was gobsmacked by their quality, especially for the price. These aren’t precocious, boutique wines; they just taste like they should be.
In a sense, these are boutique-style wines, insofar as each of the Craggy Range wines is single-vineyard effort. Indeed, Craggy Range was the first vineyard in the Southern Hemisphere to adopt making single-vineyard wines from multiple regions of the country. “Grape was matched to place,” says winemaker Steve Smith. Smith and Peabody sort of cherry-picked New Zealand, looking for optimal environments and terroir for their wines, including special places such as Gimblett Gravels in the Hawke’s Bay area for growing Bordeaux-style varietals and Syrah, and for their Chardonnay, the gorgeous Tuki Tuki Valley.
Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($19.99) is everything you’d want from a New Zealand Sauvignon-Blanc, with a complex bouquet, sweet fruit on the palate, and firm acidity with a slightly chalky finish. It’s an excellent match for just about anything that swims in water.
Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 ($21.99) is made in a Burgundian style, and the relatively cool Kidnapper Vineyard creates a subtle, elegant style of Chardonnay that I just love, comparable to the sort of Chardonnay you’d find in Chablis. This wine is great with fresh-shucked oysters.
Moving into the Craggy Range reds, Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 2010 ($19.60) shows bold black fruits—blackberry, plum and boysenberry—along with herbal hints of thyme and mint, as well as cinnamon notes from its time spent in oak barrels. It’s named for the cloak (“te kahu”) of mist that was used to protect a mythical Maori maiden from the sun as she visited her lover, Te Mata. Simply put: a helluva wine for $20.
At the higher range of the Craggy Range portfolio are a couple of wines I really love: “Sophia” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 2004 ($59.99) is a Merlot-Cabernet Franc-Cabernet Sauvignon blend that is dark and brooding, with dusty tannins, dark fruit flavors and seemingly sprinkled with cocoa dust. It’s an exceptional wine that’s just beginning to come around and could use a couple more years of cellar time. Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah 2009 ($99.99) is, simply put, luscious, elegant—the best New Zealand Syrah I’ve tasted. Fantastic.