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Visiting New Zealand's wine regions 
Part 12: Stonecroft, Hawkes Bay

Alan Limmer (pictured above) is one of the pioneers of the Gimblett Gravels, that special piece of vineyard land in Hawkes Bay. He’s also achieved recent celebrity status in the closures debate, where, as a trained (PhD) chemist he’s been able to provide some much-needed scientific rigour to discussions about sulfides, reduction and screwcaps.

He has two blocks in the Gravels, the first of which was planted way back in 1983 (the first experimental plantings here were 1981). Everything he makes comes from these, with the exception of his Sauvignon Blanc. Altogether he has 25 acres on the Gravels, of which 15–20 acres are in production.

The big focus here is on Syrah, and winemaking is pretty straightforward. ‘There seems to be something more to learn every year’, says Limmer. ‘And the more you learn the less you seem to do with the wines’.

Of his involvement in the closures debate, where he became deeply unpopular in some quarters for suggesting that using screwcaps with very low oxygen transmission runs the risk of reduction problems, Limmer says that ‘it still occupies some of my time’. He began by writing articles primarily for winemakers and then saw that the whole issue was much bigger than this. He put out a newsletter saying that there might be some problems with screwcaps in 2002, and this was picked up by a local journalist. He was particularly scathing about claims by screwcap supporters that corks showed a one-thousand-fold level of variation in oxygen transmission. ‘You only had to look at it for half and hour to see that it was rubbish’. 

Stonecroft's vineyard

‘Screwcapped wines harden up’, says Limmer. ‘They go into a tight ball’. He often does comparisons of cork-sealed versus screwcapped wines, and reckons that this is the best way to see the low-level reduction that hardens up the palate. ‘Most people don’t get a chance to see the comparisons’. Limmer is currently using Diam for his wines (a taint-free technical cork), but says that ‘if I could be sure of getting clean corks, I’d use them.’ He also says that the choice by some winemakers to use screwcaps for their whites but corks for their reds is not logical.

But what about Limmer’s wines? They’re really good. Not showy, but restrained and fresh. The Syrah is really attractive, showing the Gimblett Gravels ‘terroir’ at its best.

Stonecroft Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Hawkes Bay
Very distinctive fruit aromatics: leafy, green and crisp. The palate is fresh and rounded with some herby notes and attractive fruitiness. Stylish with a nice texture. 89/100

Stonecroft Chardonnay Old Vine 2005 Hawkes Bay
Lovely nutty intensity to the nose which shows grapefruit, herbs and some tropical notes. The palate is broad and nutty with lovely focus of fruit and good richness. A deliciously intense, bold style but all in balance. 90/100

Stonecroft Old Vines Gewürztraminer 2007 Hawkes Bay
This was a cool but good vintage, apparently. Lovely aromatics here: sweet grapey notes with some lychee and spice. Rich-textured palate is fresh and has lovely weight of fruit, with a brilliantly smooth texture. 90/100

Stonecroft Syrah 2006 Hawkes Bay
Bright, forward peppery nose that is spicy and focused. The palate is savoury and tight with berry and cherry fruit backed up by fresh, grippy tannins. Really nice focused peppery Syrah that isn’t a heavy wine, but which is really drinkable. 92/100

Stonecroft ‘Gimblett Gold’ 2007 Hawkes Bay
This is an oddity: a fortified Gewürztraminer that’s barrel fermented. Rich grapey, peachy nose. The palate is vivid and spicy, with freshness and sweetness combining well. A zippy, complex sweet wine. 91/100

Wines tasted 11/07  
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