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Weekly Weird & Wonderful Wines

Week 8 - Stonecroft Hawke's Bay Zinfandel 2011

Welcome to Weekly Weird & Wonderful Wines for another week of far flung grapes.
This week we have a wine is far from both it's modern and somewhat unknown classical homes, a Zinfandel, found not in California where it's famously grown, but in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand!
Stonecroft's Zinfandel also happens to be a very small planting and one of only a handful in the country.
Let's dive in.

Presenting this week's wine:

Stonecroft Hawke's Bay Zinfandel 2011


Category: Fish out of Water

Wine Makeup: 100% Zinfandel

Origins: The grape Zinfandel was long though to have had a straight forward history. This couldn't have been further from the truth.
Long known as the signature grape of California, it was found almost exclusively there under this name and as such was long considered a 'native' grape.
Zinfandel is believed to have been introduced to California during the Gold Rush era between 1852 and 1857 but is reported to have been present in America as early as 1832 imported from the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, Austria.

Recent DNA fingerprinting has tracked Zinfandel's path across Europe, first to the heel of Italy, Puglia, where the variety Primitivo(though to be related to Zinfandel at the time), was proven to be in fact genetically identical. 
The quest to track down where Zinfandel originates took several studies and multiple decades (led by Carole Meredith of UC Davis), with Croatian vineyards being investigated after it was discovered that well-known grape in Croatia, Plavac Malic, was an offspring of Zinfandel/Primitivo.
Finally after many trips and years of testing, a positive match was finally discovered in a small vineyard North of the city of Split. This match was associated with just 9 individual vines of a local variety known as Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Another piece to the puzzle was added when yet more positive results turned up in garden vineyards South of Split where the variety was known as Tribidrag. This name was first mentioned as far back as the 14th Century, making it the most ancient reference of what is now known as Zinfandel.

In many official documents the variety is now referred to by the compound name ZPC/ZPCT- Zinfandel/Primitivo/Crljenak+Tribidrag .

The vineyard where Zinfandel was finally identified as Crljenak Kaštelanski. (Photo by Cliff Rames)

The vineyard where Zinfandel was finally identified as Crljenak Kaštelanski. (Photo by Cliff Rames)

Zinfandel grapes

Zinfandel grapes

Region: The Hawke's Bay region is currently the second largest wine producing area in New Zealand, with around 5,000ha (12,350 acres) of vines planted.
Known for it's seasonal sunshine, the Hawke's Bay is one of NZ's premier red wine production area, with much of that focused on red blends and Syrah.
Historic wine production goes back to 1851 when Marist missionaries planted grapes in Taradale. The legacy of this production is Mission Estate which is situated in the hills above the city of Napier.
Three major landscapes are found for viticulture here, with the Alluvial Plains forming the centre of the region and offering a variety of soil types and meso-climates.
Bordering the rim on all sides of the Hawke's Bay are a series of hillsides with plantings focused particularly around Bay View, Maraekakaho and Havelock North. In the cooler, Central Hawke's Bay area, there are also limestone hills that are proving promising for Pinot Noir.
Finally there is the Coastal Areas which lay at the bottom of the Bay View hills and in Te Awanga which have stony soils and cooling maritime breezes that allow for the growth of cool climate reds and aromatic whites.

The small area that Stonecroft's vineyards are located is known as the Gimblett Gravels, a unique terrior region of only 800ha (1975acres), strictly determined by the gravelly soils laid down by the old Ngaruroro River, which were exposed after a large flood changed the course of the river in the 1860’s.

Vineyards of the Gimblett Gravels and Roys Hill

Vineyards of the Gimblett Gravels and Roys Hill

Producer: Stonecroft is a small, organically certified winery that was first planted in the Gimblett Gravels area in 1982. established by soil scientist Alan Limmer, who recognised the potential of this stony area, where his neighbours included a gravel quarry, a landfill and even an army firing range.
He initially planted Cabernet Sauvignon and a single row of what were the only Syrah vines in New Zealand at the time.

After years of council litigation and legal battles with concrete firms wishing to quarry the very gravel that makes this area so special, the local winemakers finally succeeded in securing the Gimblett Gravels as a special viticultural region.
Current owners Dermot McCollum and Andria Monin took over Stonecroft in 2010, and produce around 3,500 cases annually.

Stonecroft's original vines from the early 1980's

Stonecroft's original vines from the early 1980's


Stonecroft has always been a pioneer when it came to red wine production in the Hawke's Bay and have the oldest Zinfandel vines in New Zealand, planted in 1993 and originating from Ravenswood Winey in Sonoma, California.
There are only 6 rows of Zinfandel planted, so the production is small and hand-picked, producing less than 100 cases in most vintages.

Stonecroft's Zinfandel is usually fermented in open-top stainless steel fermentation tanks using wild yeast, followed by around 18 months maturation in seasoned American oak barrels.
The 2011 is drinking well at 6 years of age and features first a relatively light red hue, with the first hints of browning at the edges.
Slightly smoky aromas are complimented after 30 seconds in the glass by white pepper and a touch of star anise.
The palate begins full and punchy, but again becomes softer and more complex given time to breath with a lingering finish.

While Zinfandel might not have a long history in the New Zealand, we have now found that it does have an incredible world travelling story, from America, to Italy to it's ancient home of Croatia. With this wine from Stonecroft we have seen it produce an excellent wine even in environments far flung from it's original stomping grounds.
To learn more about this Zin, head to Stonecroft.

Check out more Weekly Weird & Wonderful Wines here.

Gimblett Gravel Vineyards

Gimblett Gravel Vineyards

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