Smith & Sheth, tilting at NZ’s top

The new project from Steve Smith and Brian Sheth looks to add stardust to New Zealand’s fine wine dimension

Steve Smith is well known in the New Zealand wine scene, mostly for his work in setting up and developing Craggy Range, one of the country’s most prestigious wineries. He’s now at it again, developing a project that has the potential to add stardust to New Zealand’s fine wine dimension. It’s called Smith and Sheth, and the Sheth referred to is Brian Sheth, the co-founder of Texas-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners. He is properly wealthy, and as the Peabody family found out in building up Craggy Range, he’ll be under no illusions that doing fine wine is a capital-intensive business.

Steve Smith

So far, Smith and Sheth have bought two vineyards: Lowburn Ferry in Central Otago, and Pyramid Valley Vineyards in North Canterbury. They have also planted a vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels of Hawke’s Bay. Lowburn is being renamed as Manata Estate, and some of the grapes from here will go to make a second range of wines for Pyramid Valley, which will become a two-estate brand.

But perhaps their main focus at the moment is a wine brand known as CRU, which is currently operating as a negociant where they buy grapes from good vineyards and then make the wine in a number of wineries. We visited Steve at his cellar door in Havelock North to taste the CRU wines.

The idea is that this space, which is in town, is a cellar door during the daytime and then a wine bar in the evening, offering some international wines and also good things from Hawke’s Bay. Guests can have a flight of wines for NZ$15, but they don’t offer tastes of the Lowburn Ferry or Pyramid Valley wines here.

The experience

They can also do a NZ$150 tasting experience: Smith explains that the goal is to take the guest out of the public world into the private world. This special room has barrels, and leather seats, and is very stylish. Through a widescreen theatre experience, they are transported to the three properties without having to be there. Smith was inspired by the immersive marketing of the fashion industry. ‘We are working on taking you to our world,’ he explains. The widescreen theatre is created by 72 TV screens joined together.

Smith & Sheth Cru Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is from the Wairau, and it’s made in three different wineries. Textural and pithy with nice citrus fruit, including some bright grapefruit notes. This is a really attractive Sauvignon that’s stony and pure, and is a great effort from a horror vintage. 91/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Albariño 2018 Heretaunga, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This is from the Howell vineyard in Bridge Pa. Older barrels, half malolactic and half wild ferment. Lovely rich flavours of melon, pear and nectarine with keen citrus fruit. Lovely freshness and focus here with a salty finish. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Chardonnay 2017 Heretaunga, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Half Bridge Pa and half Mangatahi. Complex nose of peach and pear with nice citrus fruit. Has a savoury, nutty edge. Good precision and weight. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Howell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
From Bridge Pa, with redmetal soils, with flecks of limestone in it. Steve Smith planted this vineyard when he was at Villa Maria. 70% new oak (they had to buy lots of barrels because it was a new project). This has lovely balance and intensity with some nuts and spice alongside pear and white peach fruit. Savoury and detailed with good acidity. Lemony brightness and notes of cashew and hazelnut. 94/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Mangatahi Chardonnay 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Nuts and spice with nice pear and melon characters. Smooth, with fine citrus fruit. Textured and smooth with cashew and citrus on the finish. Very expressive. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Cantera 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo. Sophisticated black cherry and blackcurrant nose. Supple and rounded with fine texture. Sophisticated and fine with nice weight. Supple and expressive. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Cantera 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo. Deep coloured, this is a fresh, floral, brooding red with flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and plum fruit, with a nice smooth mouthfeel, firm but fine tannins, and a woody vanilla edge from the oak. The creamy vanilla character dominates the finish a bit at the moment, but this is a very stylish wine that shows great concentration and fruit intensity, and it should age well. New Zealand does Rioja. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Syrah Heretaunga 2015 Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand
Refined and focused with peppery black cherry and raspberry notes on the nose. The palate is beautifully weighted with fresh black cherries, some spice and nice focus. Very stylish with nice grippy structure. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Syrah Heretaunga 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. This is really lovely. There’s some black pepper and fresh black cherry, along with some raspberry freshness and silky mouthfeel. There are no rough edges here: it has freshness, some fleshiness and also lovely precision. This bridges the old and new worlds beautifully with precision and purity. 94/100

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