Same same but different… Craggy Range 2019 Prestige release

2020 Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay $40.00 ★★★☆
2019 Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay $120.00 ★★★★☆
2019 Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir $50.00 ★★★☆
2019 Aroha $150.00 ★★★★★
2019 Le Sol $150.00 ★★★★★
2019 The Quarry $120.00 ★★★★
2019 Sophia $120.00 ★★★★

Julian Grounds joined Craggy Range as Chief Winemaker in February 2019, arriving from McHenry Hohnen in Margaret River. He was an inspired if slightly avant-garde choice after the previous sets of steady hands that had driven Craggy’s reputation for very well mannered, classical wines with no edges, with a strong following amongst those who enjoy the slightly old school luxurious vibe of the Prestige Collection. Julian is clearly mindful of the pedigree and weight of expectation attached to the Prestige range, seeking to make changes slowly rather than a lurch into the unknown, but it’s also clear from the wines that he’s brought a new energy. This is especially noticeable in the 2019 flagship reds which have lost some of their previous high levels of polish, becoming more characterful and interesting. Julian’s brain appears to run a mile a minute, which makes him a stimulating conversationist, yet he seems also to have enough self-awareness (and winemaking instinct?) to stop this trait from veering into potentially perilous overthinking. He’s been fortunate to hit a run of excellent Hawke’s Bay vintages and to coincide with new blood in the vineyard team, with the talented Jonathan Hamlet on board as National Vineyard Manager. Jonathan’s experience in sustainable and organic winegrowing is already paying dividends with two blocks starting organic conversion in 2021, an overall focus in herbicide reduction (30% herbicide-free this year, likely 100% free from 2022 onwards) and innovative approaches to sward and water management though native plant and biochar trials. Craggy Range has moved from being a reliable known quantity to a producer to watch. 

I tasted these wines at the Gimblett Gravels winery with Julian Grounds in July. 

There’s no longer much chardonnay on the Gimblett Gravels, but Craggy is increasing its plantings. The 2020 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay has plenty of white peach, citrus and some nutty subtlety, a fairly open-knit generously fruited palate with a good line of acidity adding brightness and freshness. Nice finesse. The 2019 Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay also hails from the Gravels (LBC means ‘the beautiful pebbles’ in English) and is a considerable step up in complexity and concentration. The bold nose of lemon meringue, white peach, and a touch of caramel corn settles down to a more subtle, bran biscuit richness with the distinctive flinty/smoky flick of sulphides. The palate is silky textured, tight, dry and very fine with a nicely linear structure and dense citrus core. Very deft handling of pithy phenolics and a lovely long savoury finish. It spends 11 months in barrel, 35% new, the 6 months on fine lees in tank. Clone 95, off relatively young vines (9 years old) due to a replanting programme. I also had a sneak peek at the 2020 LBC, which is a real baby but already showing lovely savoury compaction, a crystalline-like acidity and a very long, fine citrussy finish.  

Ahead of tasting the CR pinots, Julian showed me a couple of ‘trial’ wines – the 2019 T1 Te Muna Single Block, from 100% Abel clone with 75% whole bunch, and the 2020 T2 Block 20, from clone 667 with 80% whole bunch. The T1 has a gorgeous nose – earth, wild strawberries, raspberries, spices – the palate very fine and deceptively elegant for all of the nose’s exuberance, with a dense, savoury/sappy finish. Pretty delicious! The T2 has a darker, spicier upfront fruitiness, black cherry, damson plum and milk chocolate, the palate has firmer slightly sandier tannins and the oak popped up a little but there is also fresh red fruit on the finish giving a lift. These were wilder, edgier wines, perhaps an insight in Julian’s true pinot heart. His delight at the fruit he now has to work with is abundantly evident. The 2019 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir is a pretty tidy wine. A bright medley of dark and red fruits, spice, florals and a slight milk chocolate note, it has plushness with elegance while keeping a nice bit of savoury chewiness on the finish. Not super concentrated but nicely fine and fresh. The 2020 (still around 12-15 months from release) is similar in character, perhaps a touch more subtle with some lavender floral lifts, slightly firmer tannins while keeping the plush generosity, one can certainly see the family likeness across the two vintages. The 2019 Aroha Te Muna Pinot Noir is a rather subtle wine, not giving it all up at once; there’s red and blue fruits interwoven with earth and iodine/blood, dried herbs, a touch of florals (lavender again) and bacon fat reduction, very savoury and fine-grained on the palate with a dense core of fruit that somehow also seems light and delicate. The Martinborough savoury concentration builds on the finish, dry, earthy and super, super lengthy. A blend of 30% Abel and 35% each of clones 114 and 667, with around 65% whole bunch, this retains the sleek density of previous Arohas while dialling up the energy another notch. (Another sneak peek – the 2020 Aroha showed future good things to come…the same quite closed nose with the sense of plenty beneath, impressive texture and presence and the same long, lovely finish.) Aroha has taken a turn towards the whole bunch side of town and it’s a definite style shift but not one to complain about when it’s added more character to what was previously a wine one could really only fault for perhaps being too polished. 

Syrah is sometimes said to be akin to pinot noir, in terms of being an aromatic red where acidity and freshness are key. As such, the 2019 Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels Syrah is a lovely bookend to Aroha, and it’s clear Julian relishes the responsibility he’s been handed with this wine. It’s a poised and impressive effort, both the wine and the winemaking. The nose is invitingly seductive with spice, herbs, florals and fruits – it’s hard to tease out individual elements (always a good thing) but ripe berry fruit, milk chocolate, black pepper, olives and lavender all appear. The palate is juicy with an intense core of fruit, delicate, sandy tannins, lovely acidity and good build to the finish. It’s very long. Super approachable now but would be great to see this in a few years. 

A bit of a gear shift to the 2019 ‘The Quarry’ Gimblett Gravels, a cabernet-predominant blend (88% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot and 4% cabernet franc) though it’s hard not to love that nose – ripe cabernet is a wonderfully perfumed pleasure. Cassis, damson plums, red capsicum, cedar, spice and pencil lead, the palate is structured and elegant with a fine-grained freshness, nice flow with good concentration, very fine tannins and good length. Very classic in style, no boundaries being pushed here but lots of boxes being ticked in a satisfying manner. Equally, the 2019 Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels is pleasingly textbook in its merlot-ness (it’s 60% merlot, 26% cabernet franc and 14% cabernet sauvignon) with an opulent nose – all fruitcake, chocolate and juicy ripe plums, a touch of oak cedar and spice. There’s a plush fruit sweetness on the midpalate, the oak is very fine and well-integrated, and the tannins add nice depth to the fruit richness so it’s dry and savoury on the finish. (EJ)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *