Carl Kanowsky | Deep Purple Day at Craggy Range

Carl Kanowsky on Wine

On a visit to another winery when we were in New Zealand late last year, Terry and I joined about 1,000 of our closest Kiwi friends for a sumptuous party at Craggy Range Winery in the Hawke’s Bay wine region. 

The folks at Craggy Range graciously invited us to join the legions of their fans for the annual celebration of wine, food, and camaraderie known as Deep Purple Day. This gathering has garnered quite a reputation in New Zealand. Regardless of where we were, when we would tell folks that we were going to visit Craggy Range, they always asked, “Will you be able to go to Deep Purple Day? I’ve been before (or, in some cases, I hope to be invited soon) and it’s amazing!”  

To a person, they all wanted us to know how lucky we were to be able to attend. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Craggy Range, their wines have been described as forming “a neat introduction to the delights of Hawkes Bay’s wines.” This from Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate.” 

Craggy Range has quite a panoply of wines to offer. On this beautiful early spring day on the eastern side of New Zealand’s North Island, the winery had many on display to sample and purchase. (Given the long line to check out, it appears that many attendees took advantage of this to acquire several bottles.) 

The winery sits smack dab at the base of an imposing mountain range. (Probably where the name comes from, you think?) It has a massive grassy area (like 15 acres) with a significant pond in the middle. The folks at Craggy Range pitched several large tents, where the food and wine were located. 

We arrived via bus, courtesy of the winery, fetching our glasses to get to the drinking. 

We started with the 2023 sauvignon blanc – a great initiation to what Craggy has to offer. It’s a lightly tinted yellow, with a fragrant nose of mineral, grass and tart citrus. The mineral nose carried into the taste, along with stone fruit (particularly peach) and lemon notes. It has a long, balanced acidic finish. 

We then compared two vintages of Sophia, Craggy’s Bordeaux blend, starting with the 2013, composed of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc and petit verdot. This is a European-style wine in that it’s made to be drunk with food, particularly robust red meat, like prime rib. Spicy aromas and dark berries in the taste. While the 2013 was tasty, we preferred the 2021, which has no cabernet sauvignon but more cabernet franc. With quite ripe aromatics (almost prune-like), Terry got black berry, cherry and vanilla on the nose. The aromas presaged what we found in the flavors – very fruit-forward, with dark, ripe berries. While tannic now, this would be a good one to go back to in about five years. 

We attended a discussion about the evolution of Sophia, the Bordeaux blend that Craggy Range has been making for more than 20 years. While it began with strong notes of cabernet sauvignon, that has been replaced by cabernet Franc. Sophia reflects a Right Bank influence as it has always been a merlot wine, with other varietals added depending on the vintage. Being an early ripening grape, merlot avoids the destructive rains that often come before the other varieties are ready to be harvested. 

My favorite was the 2021 Le Sol, 100% syrah. Very earthy, reminiscent of a forest, and additional tastes of tobacco. One of the highlights were the scents of leather and berry. Probably because the climate is more temperate than Paso Robles, you don’t get much pepper. A very tasty wine. 

Overall, quite an adventure. But I still don’t know why they call it Deep Purple Day. 

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.  

The dramatic entrance to Craggy Range on Deep Purple Day. Photo by Terry Kanowsky.
The dramatic entrance to Craggy Range on Deep Purple Day. Photo by Terry Kanowsky.
Craggy Range Winery as seen through the vineyards on Deep Purple Day. Photo by Carl Kanowsky.
Craggy Range Winery as seen through the vineyards on Deep Purple Day. Photo by Carl Kanowsky.

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