One of most trusted commercial brands on the shelves is ‘Stoneleigh’ from Marlborough. Life started out around three decades ago when it was a premium brand for Corbans Wines, Stoneleigh being a special iteration of the Rapaura district, which yielded Sauvignon Blanc with the classic punchy passionfruity thiol character. The Stoneleigh range grew to incorporate other varieties, of which Riesling was my favourite. A big change came with the purchase of Corbans by its major competitor Montana in 2000, but the Stoneleigh label was retained due to its strength. That continues today, with Stoneleigh as a special Marlborough brand, still showcasing the Rapaura style.
Over time, the variations of Stoneleigh wine have grown to fill the niches in the market, with the introduction of Pinot Gris and Rosé, and even Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. There is a low-alcohol tier, then the more up-market ‘Latitude’ and ‘Rapaura Series’ levels, the latter being the flagship. One thing that long-time winemaker Jamie Marfell, heading the team since 2002 has done is ensure that the wines are of very high quality and style to guarantee commercial viability. There is nothing out of place. Until he introduced Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ – wines made with indigenous yeast fermentation. In commercial terms, this is risk taking. In quality and character, one is getting closer to the soil and thus terroir. This was in 2015 with a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir, followed by a Chardonnay in 2016, the vintage being 2015. These wines were noted by the critics, but not ‘wildly’ taken up by the consumer.
That should change with the release this year of the 2018 Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ Marlborough Rosé and 2018 Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ Marlborough Pinot Gris. I think Jamie Marfell decided to step it up a big bit by increasing the depth and richness of fruit character and the weight of the wines. The Rosé bursts with aromatic fruit but remains mouthwatering. The Pinot Gris has lovely weight and presence of exotic flavours. However both have that thread of funkiness and hint of smoke that wild yeasts give. There’s no corruption, but real detail and interest. And this from a ‘commercial’ wine! Here’s a case of risky winemaking coming mainstream!