2020 Vintage "Grand Cru" Release

July 06, 2022

2020 Vintage

This has been a moment in time that I have looked forward to for some time! Immediately following the 2013 vintage at Craggy Range, my last fully in charge, I made a prediction that this was the “vintage of a generation”.

You badge a vintage as something, not just because of the season and climatic conditions, but also the status of the vineyard and how we were feeling as people. To be honest at Craggy 2011 and 2012 were difficult for a number of reasons and by the time we got to November 2012, when we started preparing the vineyards for the 2013 vintage, I put all of those dramas behind me and for the first time since 2009 really put everything into great winegrowing and being very clear on how I wanted to make the wines.

It was a great season. A beautifully warm summer with proper hot days in January and February, followed by a long sunny autumn without the peaks of heat felt in 2009 and proper cool nights in the lead up to harvest in March and early April. The vines were mature, the viticulture immaculate, we were able to pick fully ripe at less than 14% potential alcohol and the winemaking we had curated through the first decade of the 20th century, crafted these impeccable grapes into what I consider to be exceptional wines. The 2013 Sophia was the best wine made at Craggy Range during my tenure.

I feel the same way about the 2020 Grand Cru wines from Smith & Sheth for similar, but different reasons. Last year with the release of these wines as a collection I talked about how we came to designate these wines as grand cru. Their pedigree has been reinforced with the 2020 vintage.

2020 was a terrific year vintage wise. Like 2013, a great summer with nice sprinklings of rain to reduce stress and, after five or so years fine tuning the vineyards, everything came together with immaculate canopies and fruit condition. Autumn was sunny, slightly warmer than 2013 but not so hot and dry that the grapes ripened under stress and too rapidly. Certainly this was the closest to 2013 since 2013!

The 2020 Howell Vineyard Chardonnay was harvested on the 9th and 13th of March in immaculate conditions under the shadow of an impending pandemic, although at that point none of us really knew what was coming. Warren Gibson fine tuned his approach in the cellar to reflect the great vintage with more wild ferment and a suite of now carefully selected French oak. The finished 2020 Howell to me is exemplary Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, celebrating the beautiful ripe citrus, rich stonefruit and white flower characteristics of this vineyard alongside delicate brioche, flint and toasted cashew and the distinctive savoury steel and lemon pith finish unique to this vineyard. It is something special.

The second half of vintage was something else. We went into lockdown before any of the red grapes were harvested although all the work in the vineyards had been done. Warren, Seb and their vineyard teams went into stealth mode in their own bubble just getting on with making great Gimblett Gravels red wines in the way we had been fine tuning over the last 20 vintages. They were to be left alone and allowed to get on with it. For me I had a serious case of FOMO in lockdown, my least engaged vintage for more than 35 years and one of the best. I needn’t have worried. These are great experienced people, great vineyards and a great season. It wasn’t until early May that I was able to see the young wines and this is when the 2013 déjà vu moment hit me.

The young Syrah, Cabernets and Tempranillo were perfectly ripe, complex, brooding, dense wines with balanced alcohol and no hint of over ripeness or overt extraction. My role, over the next 18 months then turned to selecting the barrels we would use for the 2020 Cantera and the 2020 Omahu Syrah, a seminal moment in my career and a chance to put the ultimate stamp on what these wines stood for.

The 2020 Smith & Sheth Omahu Syrah has a certain grand vin feel to it. There will be many from this vintage whose wines show flamboyantly when they are young, show ponies. This is not one of those. It has always been a complex brooding wine on the nose and palate, with the distinctive sandalwood, iron filings and warm gravel feel of great Gimblett Gravels Syrah. As a young wine it needs air and a big beautiful glass. In the cellar, it will richly reward those who are patient 20-30 years no problem. Important though to have enough in your cellar to celebrate the journey from young to old wine.

The 2020 Smith & Sheth Cantera, our Cabernets Tempranillo blend could almost have the same description, although is does have somewhat more of a hedonistic feel with the blackcurrant and cigar box characters of the Cabernet and the cacao and blueberry lusciousness of Tempranillo. Both of these wines I feel are truly great full bodied Gimblett Gravels reds and I would encourage you to get what you can. So I haven’t badged the vintage except by saying that it is the first truly great vintage for the Smith & Sheth Grand Cru wines!

These wines, made in low hundreds of cases, are exclusively released to our Whanau Wine Club members, followed by a wider release to our wine community a week later. There will be extremely limited volumes released to the wider wine trade. We have put together some mixed packs for those that want to try all three, and a Cantera Cellar Builder Pack with some 2018 alongside the 2019 to get your collection started. While the wines maybe available for the next few months I would recommend that you open one of each of the wines you purchase over the next month and if you want some more, get back in touch with us quickly.

Click here to view full details of the offer.

Finally thank you for your support of our small fine wine company, we are very excited about the quality of wines right now but even more excited about what is to come.

Ngā mihi

Steve Smith MW
alongside Brian Sheth in crafting the wines of Smith & Sheth.