Since Dermot McCollum and Andria Monin took ownership of the boutique Hawke's Bay Stonecroft operation in June 2010, there have been some subtle changes and improvements. These are ostensibly in the branding and marketing side, with refined labels and new website, which brings Stonecroft into a more contemporary space. The heart of Stonecroft, the vineyards and the minimal intervention winemaking remain the same, with founder Dr. Alan Limmer still involved in a consultancy role. It is one of the rarer changes of ownership that has continued the best of what was, and improved in other areas that needed it. Dermot and Andria retain the philosophy of "hand-crafting small quantities of ageworthy wines”.
2012 marks the 30th anniversary of Stonecroft's establishment, and there is much to celebrate. Stonecroft pioneered the vineyard development in the Gimblett Gravels, now regarded as one of New Zealand's premier and distinctive grapegrowing regions. The emergence of Syrah in New Zealand owes much to Dr. Alan Limmer and Stonecroft rescuing the quality clone from the Te Kauwhata research station and planting it in 1984. Zinfandel was also pioneered, the first vintage being 1999. There are changes in the works. Dermot and Andria are heading towards organic regimes in vineyard and winery, and some Viognier was planted in 2011, with a view to co-fermenting with Syrah, though not for the ‘Reserve' label, and making late harvest wines from it. But overall, the production will remain a tiny 1,000 to 2,000 cases a year, of which 50% is exported.
Dermot McCollum was in Wellington for two days to conduct a masterclass tasting around his three key varietals, followed by a mail-order customer open tasting of current releases the next day. I was very pleased to attend both, the masterclass a structured event at the Hippopotamus Restaurant of the Museum Hotel, where I made full notes, and the current wines, in the offices of Dhall and Nash, their national distributors, where impressions were made. I report both here. www.stonecroft.co.nz
Stonecroft Masterclass: Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Syrah
A tasting of nine wines, grouped in three flights of three expressions of a variety.
Chardonnay is planted over the two Stonecroft sites, the oldest vines planted in 1984 in Mere Road, and younger vines planted around a decade later at ‘Tokarahi', Roy's Hill. The clone is Mendoza, and both ‘estate' and ‘Old Vine' wines are hand-picked, WBP and native yeast ferment initiated with inoculated yeasts taking over. The ‘Old Vines' wine sees amore oak influence. On average around 50 dozen of each is made annually.
The first flight was led by the Stonecroft Chardonnay 2010 (17.5+/20), fruit from Mere Road, 13.5% alc., the wine aged 9 months in seasoned oak with 67% MLF. Very pale straw-yellow with green hues, this is elegant and fresh with up-front peach and stonefruit aromas, some mealy, nutty notes, the oak in the background. Medium-full bodied, the palate shows lush, ripe stonefruit and tropical fruit flavours, balanced by excellent, crisp acidity, subtle oaking and a fine textural line. The finish has length. Cellar 4-5 years. Next was the Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Chardonnay 2010 (19.0-/20), fruit from Mere Road, aged in 50% new French oak for 11 months with 50% MLF. Light straw-yellow with golden hues, this has density and power on bouquet with intense aromas of citrus and stonefruit and distinct oak toast. Full-bodied, rich and with ripe flavours of yellow stonefruit, mealy, nutty layers and exotic fruits emerge with a lusciousness. The oaking is powerful, but interwoven harmoniously with the fruit. Some alcohol body and warmth adds to the richness. A wine with richness, depth and a powerful finish. Keep for 4-5+ years. The third wine in the flight was the Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Chardonnay 2009 (18.0+/20), fruit from the Mere Road site, aged 11 months in new and seasoned oak with 25% MLF. Light straw-yellow with golden hues, this has a fully-packed and dense nose with dry stonefruits along with some nutty secondary complexities beginning to appear. Full-bodied with warmth and power, this is a full, rounded style, open in presentation with strong nutty flavours prominent. The acidity is restrained, resulting in a round, dry finish. This is a fulsome wine, with presence, with ripeness, now beginning to show some nuances of development.
Gewurztraminer from Stonecroft has always had consumer appeal, though its consistency in production is variable, ranging from around 50 to under 200 dozen total made. The production in 2010 was 120 dozen ‘estate' and 60 dozen ‘Old Vine'. The fruit for the ‘Old Vine' is from Mere Road, and the ‘estate wine utilises fruit from Mere Road and Roy's Hill. The grapes are hand-picked, destemmed and given skin contact for 3-4 hours. Barrel-fermentation trials were initiated in 2007. The styles from vintages with the inclusion of botrytised fruit have been particularly well-received.
First was the Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Gewurztraminer 2010 (18.5-/20), fruit from Mere Road, fermented partially in oak to 13.0% alc. with 10 g/L rs, very pale green-hued straw-yellow colour, this has a very fine, coolish herb-infused nose with florals and musk, a hint of spice and spearmint showing. Off-dry, this is still tightly bound and youthfully fresh and firm. Turkish Delight and roses with a little ginger spice show, building in intensity, but balanced by good acidity. A little heat is noticeable on finish. This is a firm and concentrated wine that will develop richness over the next 3-5 years. The Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Gewurztraminer 2009 (18.5+/20) is bright light golden-hued straw colour with good depth. The voluminous bouquet has a complex and full amalgam of Turkish Delight, musk, exotic spices and perfumes, and honey. Medium to taste, the palate is luscious with honey, ginger and rose petal characters, quite succulent. The breadth is a feature and the generosity of flavours lends decadence. One to enjoy over the next 3-4+ years. Fruit with botrytis influence, from Mere Road, stainless-steel fermented to 13.5% alc. and 25 g/L rs. Last in the flight was the Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Gewurztraminer 2007 (18.5+/20), fruit from Mere Road, fermented to 13.5% alc. and 7 g/L rs. Very even straw-gold, with a pale edge. The bouquet is tight and steely, with a minerally austerity that unfolds to show excellent florals with hints of savoury musk and earthy herbs. Off-dry to taste, there is a firm core to the floral and musky herb fruit. The textures are very fine with a little oiliness, and the acidity is in excellent balance. Some varietal bitterness is present, but countered by delicately lush, honied notes on the finish. This is a fine-featured, slow-to-mature wine that will keep 5-6 years.
Syrah is Stonecroft's claim to fame. Dr. Alan Limmer's rescued clone, known as the ‘TK', ‘Heritage' or ‘Limmer' clone has been propagated widely, but other newer clones have been imported. Stonecroft's original clone gives feminine, floral and savoury wines, whereas the newer 470 clone used at Stonecroft gives pepper and tannin. Dermot and Andria have tightened the range and labelling. Previously there have been ‘Crofters' (only one release) , ‘Young Vine', ‘Serine' and the main label Syrah, but this has been reduced to a ‘Serine' and ‘Reserve' wine for younger and lighter material and the ‘Reserve' as the top wine respectively. There is also a one-off ‘Heritage' Syrah, made only from the original vines in 2009 by Dr. Alan Limmer for the Cranford Hospice Midlands Charity Auction, of which there is a limited quantity still available. The winemaking is similar for all the Syrahs, hand-picked fruit, fully destemmed and fermented by indigenous yeasts, with at least 18 months maturation in oak.
Leading this flight was the Stonecroft ‘Reserve' Syrah 2010 (19.0-/20), fruit from Mere Road and Roy's Hill, fermented to 13.5% alc. and aged 18 months in 30% new French oak. Bright, dark ruby-red colour with hues of garnet and purple. This has a softly full nose of dark berry fruits, earth, dried herbs, spices and pepper lifted by floral notes. Fullish bodied, there are juicy flavours of dark plums, spices, black pepper and liquorice, alongside crisp, lacy acidity, all framed by very fine-grained, but firm tannins. This has concentration and drive, and is already showing complexing savoury elements. However, it should keep a decade easily. Next was the Stonecroft Syrah 2007 (18.5+/20), a blend of Mere Road and Roy's Hill fruit, the wine aged in French oak for at least 18 months. Dark, deep even ruby-red, still with some youthful purple hues. This has a very powerful, densely packed nose of black berry fruits, pepper, iron-earth and nuances of dark florals. Full-bodied, black berry and iron-earth flavours fill the mouth, exuding ripeness and density, all underlined by very serious extraction, the tannins firm, but fine-grained. This is well-ripened and sweet notes emerge, but the wine is still locked-in. This is a powerfully concentrated wine in the riper spectrum, just starting to show some earthy development. It will age 10-12 years easily. The final wine of the masterclass was the Stonecroft Syrah 1999 (18.0/20), fruit from Mere Road and Roy's Hill. Dark, deep, ruby-red with garnet and brick hues on edge, this has a soft, full, integrated nose of spicy game meat, leather and ripe dark fruit notes underneath. This has complex secondary and tertiary aromas. Medium-full bodied, the palate has sweet, lush flavours of game meat, savoury herbs, pepper and brown spices with cedar that emerge in waves. Some oak resin notes are apparent. The acidity is noticeable, and the tannins becoming resolved, and the palate is smooth in texture. This is fully mature and development flavours prevail, the fruit fading a little now. Drinking near the end of its plateau.
Stonecroft Current Release Tasting
An opportunity to taste through the current release wines of Stonecroft, enabling a different perspective to that of the masterclass. I did not score these wines due to the overview focus I had.
First up was the Stonecroft Sauvignon Blanc 2011, fruit from the ‘Woodthorpe' vineyard owned by Te Mata Estate. This is fresh on nose with candied aromas, the wine softly presented with an intriguing combination of confectionary and herbs. Softly textural. The Stonecroft Gewurztraminer 2010 is elegant, perfumed and distinctly floral, the palate fresh, crisp and tightly bound, with some depth. It carries 13.5% alc. and 12 g/L rs, and is not shamed by the Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Gewurztraminer 2010, which is 13.0% alc. and 10 g/L rs. This is softer, fuller, more intense and exotic, the richness another level up, while still fresh with its acidity. It has a tightness still to see it age.
The Stonecroft Chardonnay 2010, 13.5% alc., spent 9 months in seasoned oak, with 67% MLF. Fresh, steely citrus fruits and some mealy, nutty oak interest, this is crisply presented with elegance. However, the Stonecroft ‘Old Vine' Chardonnay 2010 is considerably more in dimension with greater layers of complex mealy, nutty and toasty elements. This is nearly honied in its richness and has great weight and length. This is a special wine and one to collect. 13.5% alc, 11 months in 50% new oak and 50% MLF. The Stonecroft Rosé 2010 is made from 85% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and is 12.5% alc. with 7.5 g/L rs. Pale pink with light purple hues, this is an interesting mix of spicy currants and florals, surprisingly lush and slippery.
One of the few, if only examples of New Zealand-grown Zinfandel commercially available, the Stonecroft Zinfandel 2010 has typical aromas and flavours of boysenberries, pepper and bramble, this wine showing some cool herb notes and being quite open in structure. The acidity is a little elevated, but this should keep well over the next 4-5+ years. 13.5% alc., the wine spent 15 months in 50% new American oak. 2009 is seen as a great vintage for the Bordeaux varieties, and a excellent wine can be seen in the Stonecroft Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, with dense, very ripe black fruits, and a touch of oak resin on nose, the palate surprisingly elegant and fine for all its density and concentration. A wine of linear drive rather than full size. It will keep a decade. 13.5% alc., the wine aged 18 months in French oak.