I last visited Pyramid Valley back in 2011, when the estate was owned by Burgundy-trained Mike Weerisng and his wife. It was a controversial estate in many ways, farmed biodynamically and dedicated to natural wines. Some of its Pinot Noir bottlings were pale, cloudy and unconventional. Some tasters regarded them as faulty, while others loved them. As Mike Weersing got deeper and deeper into his completely ‘hands off’, natural philosophy, the wines did not become any more consistent.
Fast forward to 2017, and having left his position at the head of Craggy Range, Steve Smith MW and new business partner, US businessman Brian Sheth, created Smith & Sheth. The new business is based in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island and is focused on finding vineyards that have proved to make great wines, with a particular focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They purchased the Pyramid Valley estate, having been particularly attracted by its cool site credentials and its limestone soils – which are relatively rare in New Zealand.
Location, location, location
It was great to catch up with Steve via Zoom to taste a selection of Pyramid Valley ‘Appellation’ wines.
Though Smith & Sheth are synonymous with Hawke’s Bay on the North Island, Pyramid Vally is over 300 miles south in North Canterbury on the South Island. Steve says it was purchased specifically as a Pinot Noir property: “We’re a little bit like Ridge I suppose,” says Steve, referring to the famous Californian producer that makes single vineyard estate wines, but from two different regions.
I presumed the wines would have become more consistent, with any more obvious deficiencies ‘cleaned up’, Steve being one of the most experienced wine producers in the world. He stresses that the recipe has not changed drastically, in that Pyramid Valley is still biodynamic, and uses minimal sulphur for example, but investment has allowed them to introduce more controls on various aspects of the winemaking.
The first wine tasted was a Sauvignon Blanc – the first ever under the Pyramid Valley label – but adhering to the Pyramid Valley philosophy with minimal sulphur and no additions. It also demonstrates that the estate still does things a little differently, with some ferment on skins in old oak barrels and amphora, long lees ageing, and with Riesling and Pinot Gris in the blend. The mind-set is flexible though, not adhering to any dogma: the Chardonnay, for example, was made in oak, as Steve thought the previous recipe which used amphora was too oxidative.
A real surprise was to see an ‘orange’ wine in the line-up. Steve has been highly critical of orange wines in the past and says to an extent he is still, despite now having one of his own: “It’s true that I have no time for wines that show faults – I get criticised for that, but I hope this wine is totally valid.”
The wines show a salinity which Steve cannot explain fully, but when pressed he does note that there has never been an innoculated yeast on the property; even before it was a wine farm the farmer worked organically, and the yeast could be the source.
Pyramid Valley is imported into the UK by Louis Latour Wine Agencies.