After almost four decades, Steve White’s vision for Stonyridge has come to fruition.
“It has been 37 years since I walked on to this property,” he told Restaurant & Café. “It was November 1981 and I had just sailed back to New Zealand after completing the Round the World Yacht Race and skippering in the Mediterranean. There was nothing here, just golden sunburnt grass, wild horses and old broken fences. I fell in love with this property instantly and had no doubt what its destiny was – to make one of the greatest red wines in the world.”
By the time he discovered the Stonyridge site, White had been working in wine for two years. He studied horticulture and viticulture at the University of Canterbury under Dr David Jackson and Danny Schuster before getting his start in Italy. He worked at Brander Winery and Sanford in Santa Barbara California, and Chateau Angludet and Prieure Lichine in Bordeaux. It was in Bordeaux that he learned the techniques which he brought back to New Zealand – techniques which were revolutionary at the time.
“We were the first to do many Bordeaux techniques but now they are mainstream,” he explained. “We honour our own tradition of making the finest Bordeaux blend wine in the country, but we’re always interested in new varieties.”
White describes his wines as big bodied, big fruit with varietal integrity, great complexity and seductive smoothness. “I want to make wines that invite you to go back to them, with or without food.”
White does as much as possible of the winemaking in the vineyard, keeping everything simple and organic. However, the unmissable march of climate change is having an effect on the winery, with White describing the heat in the most recent growing season as “incredible.” Twenty-two days at clocked in at 30°C or over, and most other days at temperatures higher than 27°C. Night time temperatures have also been well above average. As a result of these conditions, veraison was more than two weeks ahead with all wine varieties going through evenly and quickly. The North facing side of the vineyard allowed vines to benefit from the sun all day, enabling the ripening of the vineyard’s Cabernet range to perfection.
“I deliberately chose a north facing protected valley on Waiheke and Waiheke itself has much less summer rain than Auckland,” White explained.
Stonyridge has enjoyed international recognition for its wines, particularly its leading top-end wine Larose. Larose has sold in top restaurants across Europe and various Three Star Michelin restaurants in France, Belgium and Netherlands. It has been named as the top Cabernet Merlot in Australia for 2013 with a score of 97 – the highest equal score for any red wine in Australia. It has also been named the top Bordeaux Blend in New Zealand in the NZ Herald. In 2016, White was recognised for his excellence in winemaking as the first New Zealander to be inducted into France’s prestigious Jurade de Saint-Emilion. The Jurade de Saint-Emilion is 800 years old and is the oldest wine brotherhood in the world.
Outside of wine, White enjoys sailing, yoga, history and geography. Fo
r someone whose goal is to drink Larose in a balloon over the temples in Myanmar (he’s already ticked off most items on his winery bucket list), he offered down-to-earth advice for those starting out in the industry.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously,” he said. “Be serious about what you do, but what you do isn’t serious!”