In the realm of great red wines, there would be few geographical locations in the world that could top the hallowed Gimblett Gravels subregion of the Hawke’s Bay for its extreme natural attributes, combined with the human heart and hand that manipulates the terroir – practically bereft of soil – to perfection.
There is, after all, something intoxicating about the act of creating something from nothing. And in recognition of the incredibly unique “sense of place” imparted in the wines of this region, every year 12 of the top Gimblett Gravels reds are selected to be lauded in what is known as the Annual Vintage Selection. Submitted from the wineries thriving in this special pocket of the world, these wines are considered the benchmark for the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District, which go on to represent the region on the international stage.
For the most recent vintage of 2020, Sydney-based Master of Wine Andrew Caillard was tasked with selecting the coveted dozen, noting this vintage offering to be nothing short of “spectacular” in spite of taking place during the height of pandemic uncertainty. This vintage was the culmination of a warm, dry “textbook perfect” growing season, seeing fruit harvested in beautiful condition “combined with progressive vineyard management, winemaking skills and technology all contributing to a spectacular year for Gimblett Gravels,” says Caillard.
Of the 2020 AVS scores he awarded – and a testament to the wine-making prowess of this region – Caillard adds, “My scores reveal an embarrassment of riches… there are many worthy wines that missed out.” With the 2020 AVS scoring hot off the press, a scan of the winners since the inaugural vintage of 2008 shows some particular wines in the habit of holding court on this exclusive list over the years.
There is one blend, in particular, whose recurring presence demands a mention and whose origins hail from some of the very first pioneers to take on wastelands, the likes of the Gimblett Gravels as far back as 1851. Epitomising the legacy founded by the French missionaries of New Zealand’s first winery – Mission – this would be the iconic Mission Jewelstone Antoine, which has earned numerous mentions on the AVS list over the years, receiving most recently, 97 points in the wake of the Mission Jewelstone Syrah receiving a near-perfect 99 points in the previous vintage and promptly selling out within a matter of days.
For those who have yet to discover this exceptional red, the Mission Jewelstone Antoine is a sophisticated blend of Bordeaux varietals from their Gimblett Gravels vineyards – that of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Hailing from low-yielding vines, which are hand-harvested at optimum ripeness and maturity, it is then carefully barrel-fermented in small batches and further matured in premium French oak barrels for 12 months. The final result – a wine with a velvety texture that is at once generous, expressive and complex, showcasing rich black fruit notes married with spice, tobacco and chocolate.
It is some feat to coax out of the profoundly gravelled layers of the Gimblett Gravels, wines that command such presence and whose vines, which without a deft hand at manipulating the “environmental terroir attributes”, would simply perish. And this latest vintage is no exception. “The 2020 vintage will be remembered as one of our greatest,” remarks Chairman of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association, Cameron Price. “They’re among the best to date and reinforce the terroir’s ability to produce some of the world’s finest full-bodied red wines.”
Check out more of Mission’s Jewelstone range on their website.