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New Zealand's Craggy Range Expands to Central Otago

Winery will release several single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, showing that the country can deliver on subregional diversity

Daniel Sogg
Posted: July 20, 2007

New Zealand producer Craggy Range is significantly expanding its Pinot Noir portfolio. In addition to the standout Te Muna Road Vineyard bottling from Martinborough on the North Island, which in 2005 earned a rating of 94 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, the company has started making several new Pinot Noirs in Central Otago on the South Island. Central Otago, located in the southern third of the South Island, contains the country's largest concentration of top Pinot Noir producers and is the world's most southerly wine region.

The first of the new wines was harvested in 2006 from the Calvert Vineyard, a 20-acre property first planted in 1998, in Otago's Bannockburn area. As of the 2007 vintage (completed in April), there are two additional Central Otago Pinot bottlings from Craggy Range from the 67-acre Zebra Vineyard in Bendigo and the 14-acre Sluicings Vineyard in Bannockburn. In spring 2008, Craggy Range will harvest its first crop from a new vineyard, Otago Station, about 20 miles from the east coast of the South Island in the Waitaki Valley of North Otago.

"I think of all of the Central Otago properties as sure bets," said Steve Smith MW, Craggy Range's managing director. "There are huge differences between the sites. As a company we see a great opportunity for New Zealand Pinot at that level, and the way to show that is with single-vineyard bottlings."

Bannockburn, located about 20 miles east of Queenstown, is home to some of Central Otago's most prominent estates, including Felton Road and Mt. Difficulty. The Pinots here tend to be powerful and firm. Bendigo, an area about 14 miles northeast of Bannockburn, gets less rain, and temperatures are slightly cooler at night and warmer during the day. Quartz Reef is the best-known Bendigo producer.

Craggy Range's Steve Smith MW believes single-vineyard bottlings show off New Zealand's potential.
Smith acknowledged that the 37-acre Otago Station Vineyard is more of a gamble, calling it "pioneering viticulture." Daytime temperatures at the site tend to be a bit cooler than in Central Otago, but ripening continues later into the fall. In 2004, Craggy Range made an Otago Station Pinot Noir with grapes purchased from the first vineyard planted in the region, and they liked the results enough to participate in the development of another vineyard nearby. Smith is especially intrigued by the high concentration of limestone in the soil, conditions that are very rare in New Zealand but relatively common in some of Europe's premier viticultural areas, including Burgundy.

Craggy Range currently produces a total of about 45,000 cases a year (all vineyard-designate bottlings) from 10 different grape varieties, using estate and purchased fruit from several New Zealand regions, including Martinborough, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough. But their greatest success has been with Pinot Noir: the current release Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard 2005 (94, $35) and the Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard 2004 (93, $40) were the highest-scoring New Zealand Pinots made those years. In 2006, Craggy Range made two Pinot bottlings from the property: In addition to the 3,000 cases of Te Muna Road Vineyard, there were also 260 cases of Aroha, a selection of barrels from the two best blocks that will be released in July 2008 for $65 a bottle.

Craggy Range is based in Hawkes Bay, where it produces mainly Bordeaux-style reds and Syrah. But the winery quickly expanded to other regions, planting 86 acres of Pinot Noir at the Te Muna Road Vineyard in Martinborough between 1999 and 2001, first producing wine there in 2002. And while Martinborough's reputation for Pinot has grown with the success of the Te Muna Road wines, Smith and Adrian Baker, the winemaker responsible for Pinot Noir production at Craggy Range, have long been exploring opportunities in Central Otago.

Grower Owen Calvert, owner of the Calvert Vineyard, sells grapes to Craggy Range, North Canterbury-based Pyramid Valley and Felton Road, which developed and manages the property. In 2006, Craggy Range made 675 cases from the site, which should be released in the United States this fall for about $46, the same price as the Te Muna Road Pinot. In 2007, there will be 2,000 cases from the Zebra Vineyard and 1,200 cases from the Sluicings. The new bottlings are especially timely because poor weather at flowering and bad frosts reduced the Te Muna crop this spring about 80 percent (Baker expects to bottle about 500 cases of 2007 Te Muna Road Pinot, and there will not be a 2007 Aroha). The 2007 Pinots, also slated to cost $46, will be released in fall 2008.

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