Waitaki through the eyes of Steve Smith MW

Steve Smith MW hasn’t lost his love for the Waitaki Valley. Smith & Sheth Wines

Waitaki Valley Feature Week

I caught up with Steve Smith MW on the golf course during King’s Birthday weekend. He blamed my presence for his poor performance on the eighth hole.

“Waitaki is a bit out on a limb. However I haven’t lost my love for the region. It’s a tough place to grow grapes but can make some amazing wines.” Steve Smith MW

Smith was former managing director of Craggy Range winery in Hawke’s Bay and is co-founder of AONZ Fine Wine Estates. In 2004 Craggy Range made their first Waitaki wines from a newly planted vineyard. Smith recalled that they produced mostly pinot gris with some riesling and pinot noir. It was their pinot gris that made the strongest impression on me. An intense wine with a wonderful balance, powerful fruit and a beguiling savoury edge. I wrote:

“This is the first white wine I’ve tasted from the promising new Waitaki Valley region in Otago. The wine was made by Doug Wisor, the talented Craggy Range winemaker tragically killed in a kiting accident. A benchmark pinot gris with the flavours of strong ripe pears together with ginger, spice and melon. Rich mouth-filling wine with a creamy texture.”

The last wine under this label was made in 2008. I asked Smith why Craggy Range had ceased producing Waitaki wines.

“The Global Financial Crisis happened and our priorities changed. Also Waitaki is a bit out on a limb. However I haven’t lost my love for the region. It’s a tough place to grow grapes but can make some amazing wines. Waitaki is on the edge climatically”.

Smith believes that Waitaki is like his own super-premium region, Pyramid Valley. It is difficult to sustain a business entity on its own and needs to have other parts to remain profitable. Valli Wines, for example, produces wines from other regions such as Bendigo, Gibbston and Bannockburn and doesn’t have to rely solely on Waitaki.

High-end cars, for example, can sell at a loss while the cheaper models pay the bills. Perhaps that makes Waitaki the Lexus of wine regions but if that’s the case, Waitaki’s winemakers need to add further value to their region’s wines.


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