Grapes on the half shell

Which wine goes with oysters? A crisp sauvignon blanc is likely to be your reply. Yesterday, I had merlot and oysters.

Not that I ate oysters and drank the merlot mind you. But they were together.

I attended a seminar with Steve Smith, vineyard manager, winemaker, partner and all-around grape guru at Craggy Range. Founded in 2001 in the cool Gimblett Gravels area (Hawke’s Bay) of New Zealand, Craggy Range also makes single vineyard wines from Otago and Martinborough.

I tried two barrel samples of merlot from Gimblett Gravels. One was more plush, more merlot-like. The other was tightly wound and high in acidity–not bad for a barrel sample. Were they from different vineyards? In fact, no, they were even from the same block of the same vineyard.

To explain the difference, Steve had me shine a flashlight on a gray rock from the vineyard. Pretty dull. Then he sprinkled some crushed oyster shells on it and had me shine the flashlight on it again. The reflection was brighter.

Steve had done the same thing in the vineyard. He had sprinkled half of the vineyard block with crushed oyster shells, which then reflected some sun light onto the grapes and leaves that were normally obscured. The barrel sample made from the oyster side of the vineyard was the one that was more plush and had greater depth.

Grapes grown on the half shell? It could be the wave of the future.
* * * * *
Craggy Range, “Sophia” 2004. Find this wine
This blend of merlot and cabernet franc has a rich, dark color with aromas of blueberry and cigar box. The firm tannins give it a good structure for aging and a good finish. I’d love to taste it next to some blended wines of the same grapes from Bordeaux and Long Island to tell the effects of terroir–oysters or not.

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7 Responses to “Grapes on the half shell”

  1. That’s pretty darn neat. I wonder if the minerals in the shells impart any character to the soil, as well.

  2. Steve pointed out that they are renewable and biodegradable (3 years he thought). He said they add calcium to the soil when they break down. He also called this “the human part of terroir.” Indeed!

  3. Wow, that’s really cool.

    Side note: My boss introduced me to a great Oyster recipe:
    Spoonful of Pesto, a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano, B-B-Que a few minutes and enjoy. Delicious with a baguette!

  4. Quite amazing. Is it a somewhat regular thing though to put these sorts of organic elements in the vineyards (while the grapes are growing on the vine) to act as fertilisers later on?

  5. Jathan-
    I’ve got the homemade pesto–now if I could just find some oysters…(I’ll send the shells to Steve Smith)

  6. Hi Salil,
    Well, I’ve never heard of oyster shells before (but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t doing it), but there is a growing number of vineyard managers who use only organic treatments–no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. And then there’s the biodynamic producers who take it to a whole new level…

  7. Dry River in Martinbrough use reflective pannels while a couple of other Kiwi Vinyards used crushed glass. One quip though, Hawkes Bay is probably a warmer climate to grow wine in, not a cooler one. I suppose though that this is debatable.


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