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Wine of the Week for week ending 27 February 2005
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Stony Batter Gravestone Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Last year at the regional round table wine forum where reports from the major wine regions in New Zealand were delivered by a regional representative, it was noted that Sauvignon Blanc production in the greater Auckland region had trebled. A few people scratched their heads wondering why anyone would want to produce more sauvignon blanc from this northern region when Marlborough was synonymous with quality sauvignon blanc and was the area that had captured the world's attention. But the statement was quickly put in perspective. The huge rise in production was

    a. the result of a particularly good vintage, and
    b. the result of Stony Batter Estate's Waiheke Island vineyards producing a decent crop for the first time.

Stony Batter on Waiheke Island is one of the most interesting vineyard estates in New Zealand, without a doubt. Situated on the eastern end of Waiheke Island, 72 individual vineyard sites of varying sizes are scattered across a range of terrains and soil types on the 2000-hectare Man o' War Farm. Sixty hectares of vines have been planted and amongst the sites, that are quite discontiguous in places, are stands of native bush, olive groves, lush farmland, beautiful coastal bays and a Department of Conservation historic reserve.

Most touristy type people who visit Waiheke will know Stony Batter for the latter. The reserve is situated on one of the highest points of the island where the views across the sea to other islands and to the mainland are as far as your eye will take you. World War II gun emplacements are hidden amongst the amazing volcanic rock outcrops while beneath the ground there is an extensive tunnelling system. (For more info visit the Stony Batter Historic Reserve page.)

Others may know of Stony Batter for the 19 year dispute that Man o' War Farm's owner, John Spencer, had with the Auckland City Council over access across his land to the historic reserve. At the height of the dispute a huge mound of dirt dumped on the road firmly stated the point. Today the dispute has been resolved and the walk to the reserve is about 500 metres from the car park.

Stony Batter Estate focuses on Merlot as its major grape variety along with Cabernet Franc while Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and smaller amounts of Chardonnay, Malbec, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Semillon are also grown. Vineyards are oriented every which way and lie on land that seems flat when compared to the precipitously steep sites, but probably isn't. Varying clay, volcanic rock and volcanic ash soils as well as site aspects that face north, south, east and west give distinct variations to the vigour of the same variety of vine as well as to the flavour, size and crop levels of the grapes they produce.

Wine is made on the property at the winery near Man o' War Bay and it is here I tasted this week's Wine of the Week, the Stony Batter Waiheke Island Gravestone Sauvignon Blanc 2003.

Don’t expect a Marlborough look-alike for this is wine that, for those who know the style, is distinctly reminiscent of Bordeaux Blanc. There's a twist in its name too. Though 'gravestone' sounds a bit morbid, some of the great Bordeaux Blanc comes from Graves, so think of this wine made in a Graves–tone.

Medium straw gold in colour, it has a smoky nose with characteristic mellow sauvignon blanc aromas of sweet pea and melon. There's quite a mellow character to the taste as well, a mellow woody influence with apricot-tinged stonefruit, melon, citrus and an abundant yeast lees mealiness. Creamy textured, rich and full, the wood is perhaps just a little dominant on the finish without food and the aftertaste has a mouthfillingly rich citrus, lime and apricot aftertaste with the savouriness of the oak and yeast lees balancing the fruitiness nicely. This is a sauvignon blanc that will last well, 4 to 5 years easy.

Clocking in at a cool $39.95 a bottle, it is one of the New Zealand's most expensive sauvignon blancs on release – Cloudy Bay Te Koko is about $3 dollars cheaper. When I asked how they justified the price, marketing manager Paul Sharp told me the hand picked fruit was collected over 3 separate picks, ensuring the fruit was at its best. After that it underwent full barrel ferment and has considerable time in bottle before its official release next week. It carries 12.4% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a cork.

The beautiful Man o' War Bay seemed the ideal place to have a picnic and here we opened a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (not the Te Koko) to compare and contrast with the Stony Batter Gravestone 2003 and wash down our antipasto style food of bread, paté, smoked salmon, cheeses, pickles and olives.

There is no comparison really. Cloudy Bay delivers what Marlborough is famous for – young, fresh vivaciousness with vibrantly crisp acidity and tropical fruit pungency. Stony Batter is definitely the more versatile food wine, delicious with the Pork and Pistachio Nut paté, alive with the cajun spiced smoked salmon wings and smooth with the cheeses.

Stony Batter's website is 'under construction' at the time of writing but Waiheke Wine has contact information, etc. Glengary Hancocks are the distributors in New Zealand.

As for the abundant production from 2004, no wines from Stony Batter's harvest are released yet but fans of this style can look forward to a second label from Stony Batter. Stony Batter Roadworks Sauvignon Blanc 2004 is due for release later this year.

© Sue Courtney
20 February 2005

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