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Wine of the Week for week ending 31 October 2004
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Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2003
Martinborough, New Zealand

When Craggy Range Vineyards bought land in Martinborough on Te Muna Road, over the hill some 8 kilometres south east of the main cluster of vineyards near Martinborough township, they bought it for a virtual song. The land was prone to drought in summer, hence wasn't the best for farming and it wasn't in the favoured area that the early players to the region - Ata Rangi, Chifney, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyards and Te Kairanga - had identified and demarced.

The demarced area, a crescent shaped edge of the river terrace formed by the Ruamahunga and Huangarua Rivers on the northern side of the township, was about 1000ha in total. It consisted of deep gravelly, free draining soils that once formed the old river bed and with the low rainfall and similar temperatures and wind patterns, it was thought to be homogenous from a viticultural point of view. Rules and regulations were defined by the new 'Martinborough Terrace Apppellation Committee' and in 1991 the 'Martinborough Terrace Appellation of Origin' system was adopted. At the same time the quality of the pinot noir being produced from this tiny region was being recognised both nationally and internationally. Was this the southern hemisphere equivalent of Burgundy? Quite possibly.

Vineyards planted nearby that were not on the demarced land, were not considered part of this special appellation. Where the gravels stopped the appellation stopped and if the soil change ran through the middle of an existing vineyard, too bad. It was a controversial move at the time and certainly divided the community into those who had vineyards on the defined Martinborough Terrace and those who did not. Only those in the former category could use the 'Martinborough Terraces' stickers on their wine and be part of the group marketing campaign.

So at the beginning of the millennium when Craggy Range Vineyards called their Te Muna Road vineyard a 'Martinborough Terrace' vineyard it was bound to cause some rumblings in the tightknit wine community and it did. But Craggy Range was no tiny boutique producer that could be stood over by the committee - the 166 hectares of land they were planting into grapes was going to double the region's production. And Craggy Range was not the only high profile developer in the Te Muna Road area. There was also ex-Martinborough Vineyard winemaker, Larry McKenna, with his new vineyard venture, Escarpment. Both Steve Smith MW of Craggy Range and Larry McKenna realised these river terraces on the 'other side' of the hill were a discontiguous outcrop, or an extension of the now famous Martinborough Terraces. It was Te Muna, which when translated means 'special place'.

At the same time the larger Martinborough region was expanding and viticultural experts were digging holes all over the place to find the pockets of gravelly soils that were now in demand. Murdoch James' old Blue Rock Vineyard on Dry River Road, some 7 kilometres south of the township, also had the desired river terrace gravelly soils but because of its location could never be part of the Martinborough Terraces Appellation. It seemed logical that to satisfy all the producers from the region (including those original producers who had expanded outside their demarced appellation) and to promote the region's wines in harmony, Martinborough would have to be redefined.

But just where does Martinborough start and end? That's where the new Martinborough Geographical Indication comes into play. Instead of just one small outcrop of a single soil type, they would use roads, rivers, property boundaries and other natural features to define the area.

The proposed Martinborough G.I. takes in two of the old county ridings of the Featherston County, namely the Martinborough Riding and the Otaraia Riding. The northern side of the Haurangi State Forest Park defines most of the southern boundary, the Ruamahunga River largely defines the western boundary, the Whangaehu River defines the north east boundary until it meets the Hungaroa River, which then becomes the south east boundary. The northern boundary joins the Ruamahunga and Whangaehu Rivers in a line approximately 10.5kms north of the town centre.

While the boundary definitions are not totally finalised and a couple of potential areas may extend the G.I, there is still at least 8 months before the application to have the boundaries registered is put before parliament when the Geographical Indications Act comes into force next year. The Act will also allow subregions to be defined.

The region's new marketing body, Wines from Martinborough, was launched earlier this month to corporate all the region's vineyards and aggressively promote the region's superb wines, especially their flagship pinot noir. After twenty years of producing Pinot Noir, Martinborough has built an enviable reputation within New Zealand, at least. The winemakers here are driven by the passion, the desire and the pursuit of fine wine. This was evident at a tasting of 22 Martinborough region pinot noirs from the 2003 vintage as the wines mostly showed at the upper level of quality.

The tasting was held so a 'Top Six' could be selected to market the region's wines. The eleven wine writers that undertook the task did a great job, choosing well-established labels as well as new players and chose wines from a variety of Martinborough sites. Not bad considering it was all carried out in a blind tasting format without discussion.

When the wines were revealed, the 'Top Six' were Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2003, Coney Pinot Noir 2003, Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003, Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir 2003, Stratford Pinot Noir 2003 and Stonecutter Pinot Noir 2003.

One of my personal favourites, a wine I gave a solid gold medal rating to, was the Craggy Range Te Muna Martinborough Pinot Noir 2003 and this was the wine I chose to accompany my lunch with after the tasting. It is a wine with a lovely savoury character and rich ripe fruit and complemented rather than overpowered the salmon that I was eating. A brightly hued ruby wine with tinges of violet, the rich and appealing aromatics exude lovely pinosity and meaty scents. Then in the mouth the ripe fruits characterised by plums and black cherries balance the lovely savouriness of the wine. It is a big full rounded style of pinot with silky tannins and excellent length, very appealing and easy to drink. While some pinot noirs are creeping up in the alcohol stakes, this has a very respectable 13% alcohol by volume and at $39 a bottle the suggested retail the price is smart too. It is made from second crop fruit from the Te Muna Road vineyard. Find out more from the Craggy Range website.

I had the opportunity to taste this delicious wine again at the Wines from Martinborough trade show when it visited Auckland last week and the wine could be simply described as delicious. However the tasting was tinged with sadness as the news of the accidental death of Doug Wisor, the talented Craggy Range winemaker, had come through the day before. This Wine of the Week is dedicated to his memory.

© Sue Courtney
26 October 2004

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