An interview with Craggy Range's Chairman, Terry Peabody

The Wine Society has been shipping the wines from New Zealand's Craggy Range Winery for several years now. Craggy was one of the first in the southern hemisphere to make single-estate wines; their aim from the outset to produce terroir-driven wines. As the vines have matured and winemaking techniques become ever more refined, the wines have increased in subtlety and depth, speaking eloquently of their place of birth.

But how did Craggy Range come into being? This was a story that I for one was not familiar with, so when its founder and chairman, Terry Peabody, came to Stevenage to talk to staff about his wines (and introduce our brand new Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red), we thought it high time to hear his story.

From boy to man

Terry Peabody in Stevenage to introduce our new Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red Terry Peabody in Stevenage to introduce
our new Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red

Terry wasn't born into wine. Far from it. He was actually born on the Pacific island of Guam, the son of a civilian engineer with the US army. While still a baby, he and his family were on the last boat out before the Japanese invaded during World War II. 'The families that got left behind, friends of my parents, suffered terribly. We were very lucky.' Terry tells me.

Some might say that Terry has lived a lucky life, but if you're not able to make the most of the opportunities that life throws at you, then luck alone rarely breeds success and Terry has certainly been able to do just that.

The family lived in Virginia and then the West Coast before moving to Japan when Terry was nine. Rather ironically, his father was involved in the rebuilding of Japan's runways after the US bombings during the war. But although the young Terry was fascinated by immersion into a different culture, he wasn't happy about leaving the States. 'I guess I must have misbehaved quite a bit, because my folks decided to send me back home to military school. I hated it, but I think it did me a lot of good!'

After studying engineering at Maryland University, Terry moved to Australia in 1965. 'It really was the land of plenty at the time,' Terry says. 'At the time Australia was in the midst of its biggest engineering project ever - the construction of the Snowy Mountains [hydroelectric and irrigation] Scheme. There were lots of opportunities and I won a road-building contract.'

Through this work, the company developed a way of re-using fly-ash, a by-product from coal-fired power stations, as a constituent for concrete. 'Previously, the power stations were paying people to take the fly-ash away. We offered to take it away for nothing and then were able to use it for building roads.'

This in turn created more opportunities. In order to carry out the work, large, sophisticated custom-built vehicles were needed. Terry soon went into producing these trucks himself then started exporting these and the fly-ash recycling worldwide.

Through the global businesses that evolved from these beginnings, Terry eventually also got into the waste management business both in Australia and Asia.

Craggy Range's Gimblett Gravels' vineyard with the Ngarororo river that changed its course leaving behind a gravel plain

Craggy Range's Gimblett Gravels' vineyard with the Ngarororo river that changed its course leaving behind a gravel plain

From waste to wine

So how did Terry make the transition from this world of heavy industry to wine?

He says that he had quite an unusual upbringing in that his parents were quite liberal and they taught Terry to enjoy wine with food from quite a young age. 'It's what gave me an enjoyment and appreciation of wine that has always stayed with me.' Terry says.

But the decision to go into the wine business wasn't actually Terry's. He goes on to explain what happened:

'In the early 1990s I got back to Australia after a four-week business trip, my wife and daughter told me that they wanted me to start a business that they could become involved in. They sat me down in front of a delicious meal with some great wines and announced, 'We are going to produce wine!' The next day, nursing a slight headache, the enormity of the venture suddenly hit me, but I had made a promise to the two people who meant the most to me in the world and I decided if we were to build a legacy for the family, then we should aim high.'

Where to plant a vineyard?

A stunning location in which to build a legacy - the Giants winery with Te Mata peak as a backdrop A stunning location in which to build a legacy - the Giants winery with Te Mata peak as a backdrop

So if you want to create a great wine, where do you start? Terry and his wife both had an appreciation of fine wine and realised the importance of terroir, so they started to look around the world to find a suitable spot to start their new business.

France was the obvious first place to look, but the high price of vineyard land and convoluted bureaucracy ruled it out. Napa was next on the list; the situation was not dissimilar to France. 'We nearly invested in Western Australia - we like the cooler-climate wines and our main home was in Australia, but the vineyards of WA are still a six-hour journey from the east coast, so we gave up on that idea too.'

Then, while attending a truck show in New Zealand, Terry found out that importers of his trucks also happened to own Montana Wines, real pioneers of Marlborough in their day. When they heard that Terry was interested in starting a winery they took it upon themselves to show him around.

'These were exciting times in New Zealand. The wines were already showing great promise but weren't exported that widely at the time. I was also impressed with the kiwi 'can-do' attitude and the beauty of the country.'

And, importantly, there were also fabulous opportunities to buy virgin land at very good prices. Terry had the good fortune of being introduced to one of the industry's pioneers, Steve Smith MW. Steve, the first viticulturist to gain the Master of Wine qualification, knew his stuff and having analysed the country's soils from top to bottom, he also knew these better than anyone.

There was a meeting of minds and a shared vision, and a partnership was formed. New Zealand's sauvignon blancs were already starting to cause a stir and gain international recognition, but Terry and Steve determined that the core of their business should be to tell New Zealand's red wine story. Steve Smith knew just the place to start the venture.

Craggy Range is born

Steve told Terry about the Gimblett Gravels, virgin land within the Hawke's Bay region on New Zealand's North Island. The area was a wasteland fit only for a quarry and was due to be mined, but winemakers and viticulturists like Steve Smith MW saw the potential of the region and managed to save it for wine.

'We were lucky enough to be able to buy 100 hectares of this 850-hectare area which is now widely regarded as the best region for producing reds from Bordeaux varieties and syrah in New Zealand.' Terry told me.

Craggy Range
Craggy Range
Craggy Range

Open for visitors – Craggy Range is geared up for guests at their cellar door, in their restaurant and even overnight in their vineyard cottages

The Gimblett Gravels story

So what's so special about the Gimblett Gravels region? 160 years ago, this region was flooded after earthquakes struck the area and when the flood waters subsided, the river which ran through it had changed its course. What was left behind was a vista of gravel on top of mineral-rich soils.

Viticulturists like Steve Smith took one look at it, saw the right and left banks with the ocean not far away and were immediately reminded of Bordeaux. 'Let's plant some merlot,' he said to Terry.

So unique is the soil here that it now has been given appellation status - 'the only appellation in the world defined by the soil type,' Terry goes on to explain. It is also the only specified wine region in the world to be trademarked, so unfortunately, we cannot mention it on the label of our new Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red.

Already one of the warmest regions within New Zealand, the stones here radiate heat during the night, helping to get extra ripeness into the red varieties. 'Our Bordeaux blends are merlot-dominated; merlot and malbec do particularly well here, cabernet is still more tricky to ripen. Syrah also does very well, with the lifted, aromatic, almost floral character people tend to associate with the old world. People don't expect to find the density and velvety tannic structure that we get in our reds, especially our syrah,' Terry says of their wines.

Craggy Range planted its first vines in the Gimblett Gravels in 1997

Craggy Range planted its first vines in the Gimblett Gravels in 1997

The first vines were planted in 1997 and a state-of-the-art winery, the first of two, was constructed to realise the dream of producing site-specific wines from New Zealand to compete with the world's best, with the accent firmly on red wines.

But the ideal that both Terry and Steve had signed up to was not to have a regional bias for their wines but to seek out unique parcels of wine by matching variety to vineyard site. So after Gimblett Gravels came pinot noir and sauvignon blanc at Te Muna in Martinborough.

'Te Muna means 'secret place' in Maori,' Terry explains, 'its climate is not dissimilar to the Loire or parts of Burgundy and Steve Smith had already seen the potential here for sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. Now 16 years on, the vines are still young, but already we are beginning to see some extra depth in the wines as the years go by. We are starting to see a savoury character rather than just pure fruit.'

A classic Marlborough sauvignon blanc is produced from the Avery vineyard, in one of the warmer parts of this famous region, then in Central Otago, pinot noir is vinified from the Calvert Vineyard.

Meanwhile, back in Hawke's Bay, merlot is still the most widely planted variety, complemented by plantings of Bordeaux-blend stable mates, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec - the latter an important constituent in claret in pre-phylloxera Bordeaux. Syrah is also significant for Craggy Range and they make some of the country's finest chardonnay here too.

Alongside the vineyards and wineries, Craggy Range also now hosts guests in their vineyard cottages and at the estate's renowned Terroir restaurant.

The legacy goes from strength to strength

Not surprisingly, Terry tells me that his three children (and now 11 grandchildren) have all become involved, or are aspiring to be in the family's wine business.

Terry, who still splits his time between the two sides of his businesses says that his children have all left the other aspects of his business interests and gone into the wine side. 'I understand this perfectly,' he says, 'after all, it is without doubt the most fun of all the businesses I have set up.'

Joanna Goodman
March 2016

If you've not tried Craggy Range's wines yet, what better place to start than with the new Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red which comes from the exceptional 2013 vintage - described as 'the vintage of a generation' - the best yet in this young wine-producing country's history.

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