A good year for Stonyridge

ROB O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 20/01/2013
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Success story: Stonyridge Winery.

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The Global Financial Crisis has been kind to Waiheke Island's Stonyridge Vineyard, with founder Steve White saying the company has had its best three trading years ever.

The thirty-year-old operation has built its reputation slowly, and globally. A bottle of Stonyridge's signature wine, the Larose cabernet/merlot blend, will now cost you € 600 ($948) in chef Alain Ducasse's three-Michelin star St Tropez restaurant.

And now Stonyridge's Larose has just collected an almost unbelievable accolade, being named Australia's top-equal red wine in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide 2013.

White said that three years ago, when the GFC hit, he was quite nervous about the future, so he set about tightening internal procedures and "really looking after clients".

"It made us run the business better," he said.

With trading at all-time highs, the strategy has paid off, but it isn't just in export markets that Stonyridge is experiencing success. White said that in the past three months he has detected a change in the local market as well.

"New Zealanders are spending more," he said.

But back to that unbelievable accolade. The first thing that's remarkable is that Stonyridge tends not to enter competitions. White said its wines have now such a reputation they are included anyway.

"We win by serendipity," he said. "We don't enter and we don't make wine to appeal to judges."

Secondly, and more obviously, it was winning in Australia against other Bordeaux blends. Not only that, the Larose was awarded 97 points out of a hundred, top equal marks for red wines. Along the way, Larose beat Australia's signature Bordeaux, the famous and collectible Grange Hermitage, which scored 94.

Wine critic and author of the Good Wine Guide 2013, Nick Stock, described the 2010 Larose as "sitting right at the top of the Bordeaux-inspired blends, the 2010 Larose has a beautiful density that is fused with elegance . . . a real triumph."

But White was oblivious to all this.

"We only found out by accident when we were in Sydney.

"This latest recognition is remarkable because it blasts the old generalisation that Australia makes great reds and NZ great whites."

One way or the other, Stonyridge over its 30 years has gone from being considered an oddball effort - trying to make world-class Bordeaux, let alone red wines, was considered a naive quest - to exporting ultra premium Bordeaux blends to Australia and elsewhere.

"We were virtually laughed at when we said we were trying to do high-quality Bordeaux blends," White said.

Annual production at Stonyridge is around 4000 casks, small by most standards, with around 700 casks heading offshore.

Quantities of the premium Larose vary from year to year. Sometimes 20 per cent of the vintage will be used to make Larose. On a good year, a very good year (think 2006, 2008 and 2010) that might climb to 80 per cent, making production somewhat unpredictable.

White said he has sensed a change in the market back towards traditional blends such as his Bordeaux styles and away from a ten-year "flirtation" with Syrah and Pinot Noir.

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Last year Australian wine magazine Winestate awarded Stonyridge Larose 2006 five stars, placing it first equal with the legendary Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River in its annual awards in 2011 and ahead of Chateau Latour 2006 and Chateau Rothschild 2006.

Generally speaking, wines get better, and more complex, as vines age. White said the average age of Stonyridge's vines is now around 20 years.

However, as they age, vines can also lose vigour and production drops. Individual vines that don't produce are replaced. That has advantages too, because root stock now is better than that available 30 years ago, he said.

Despite that, around 25 per cent of the vines at Stonyridge are still 30 years old.

At retail, Larose can be had for around $250 a bottle. It has been the most expensive wine in the country for about 20 years, White said.

Being on Waiheke has many advantages. White is a keen sailor, still occasionally making delivery trips for yachts. Stonyridge's wines are "very popular" on the many superyachts that visit the island, he said.

Waiheke also attracts powerful visitors.

Over the years presidents, dignitaries and celebrities from around the globe have visited the Stonyridge cafe, including the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Joanna Lumley, Michael Douglas, Carl Lewis, the President of Mexico, Rachel Hunter, Jamie Oliver and the Black Eyed Peas.

With the island being named a "must-see" destination by the New York Times last week, that flow of the rich and powerful is unlikely to slow.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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