Hats off to Craggy Range, which has gone from strength to strength since entering the wine market more than a decade ago.

It is easy to be seduced by wealthy backers who throw money at a project and then let things drift after a leisurely stroll in the vines. Big bucks don't necessarily translate into premium wines - that kind of transformation takes skill, dedication and hard work by an inspired team and even some lucky breaks.

No one knows this better than master of wine and Craggy Range's head honcho, Steve Smith. The meticulous viticulturalist and winemaker is under no illusions about what makes wine great.

"Everybody is feeling more confident about what they do and how they go about doing it. The vines have all got more age and we know what works where and why - and what doesn't."


Smith speaks with honesty and knows exactly what he wants from his vines, whether they are in Martinborough or Hawkes Bay.

If a vintage has been disappointing he will say so and point out this is when the winemaking team show their skill and need to step up. He knows you've got to keep striving to improve quality - there's a lot of wine out there and the consumer is spoilt for choice.

"The next decade for fine New Zealand wine is going to be the best ever and it'll show probably more with pinot noir than any other wine."

Smith is very hands-on and utterly focused. On his new release, Les Beaux Cailloux chardonnay, he says: "We're looking for texture rather than big fruit ... the oak has been reduced, especially the time in the barrel."

As for whether our wines have in the past been given too much oak, he says: "Not necessarily, often the wines are underfruited rather than over-oaked."

He's very upbeat about his prestige collection for 2010, a vintage for serious wine lovers who are patient and enjoy the revelation that comes with well-cellared wine.

2010 Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux, $63
"The beautiful gravels" is the translation and Hawkes Bay Gimblett Gravels produces a finely textured mineral quality to this fabulous chardonnay, regarded by the team as "the ultimate expression of our winemaking". Absolute class.

2010 Craggy Range Sophia, $73
A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, this is a softly textured, elegant wine with hints of cedar, sandalwood, mulberry, espresso beans and herbs. Sheer bliss with beef.