One to watch

Michael Henley (left) and Steve Smith MW. (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

NZ’s newest wine producer has hit the ground running after its purchase of Pyramid Valley in North Canterbury and Lowburn Ferry in Central Otago.

Smith and Sheth is a partnership between rock-star viticulturist, Steve Smith MW and wealthy American software developer, Brian Sheth, who describes himself as an “environmental philanthropist.”

This new producer excites me for several reasons. They have purchased top vineyard sites and are in the market for even more.

They formed Aotearoa NZ Fine Wine Estates and have an office in Havelock North. Michael Henley moved from Trinity Hill to become general manager of the new company and they recently appointed Huw Kinch as winemaker for Pyramid Valley. Kinch, who steps into the new role in June, made the move after working for nearly 10 years under Larry McKenna at Escarpment in Martinborough.

Aotearoa NZ Fine Wines will market their wines under the following brands:

Pyramid Valley

The existing 2.2 ha vineyard is planted with pinot noir and chardonnay in four separate blocks but, according to Steve Smith, the best parts of the vineyard haven’t yet been planted because the founders, Mike and Claudia Weersing, wanted to gain some experience before committing vines to the choicest blocks. The vineyard will be expanded by the new owners this year.

Pyramid Valley will also include a Central Otago pinot noir label from young vines grown at their Lowburn Ferry site.

Lowburn Ferry

Smith explained that early miners established a market garden, irrigated by mine sluicings, on this site and on the Felton Road vineyard 160+ years ago. As a result, both sites are uniquely high in organic matter which makes then rather special, according to Smith.

Lowburn Ferry’s vineyard is 3.5 ha with another 9 ha of land plantable. The vineyard currently produces pinot noir but will also ultimately produce chardonnay.

Smith & Sheth CRU

This label covers chardonnay and syrah from Hawke’s Bay and sauvignon blanc from Marlborough. At this stage, the wines are all made from purchased grapes. The wines are all excellent.

This new producer excites me for several reasons. They have purchased top vineyard sites and are in the market for even more. Steve Smith MW is an inspiring viticulturist with an impressive history of quality winemaking. They appear to be well-funded. Most of all, they have lofty goals.

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