Alan took his first cuttings from Matawhero Wines in Gisborne and grafted them himself:
I’ve spent a lot of time with Kim Salonius and with Denis Irwin drinking Matawhero Traminer and those were absolutely bloody stunning. They were the benchmark wines I think – so I had to plant Traminer. The first things we planted were Chardonnay, Cabernet and Gewurztraminer. What Bill Irwin brought back, the Mendoza Chardonnay, was probably the best thing going UCD7 Cabernet that was virus free, and the Traminer was UCD4.
He added Sauvignon Blanc in 1984, after Glenvale won a gold medal using grapes from other vines in Mere Road, and began planting his Syrah vines in the same year. His Syrah became flavour of the year by 1989. By 1993, faced with the alternative of staying small on the Salonius model, or increasing scale to a size where he could employ labour, he decided to expand. He turned down the chance to buy more land on the Gimblett Gravels, by then being marketed aggressively, and instead bought 15 acres on adjacent Roys Hill, in a subtly different natural environment where he has extended his Syrah and other varieties:
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I thought if I want to survive in this and do well I’ve got to be competitive at an international level which means I have to understand the standards that they’re up to – and I have to be able to make a living at those prices.
With this extra land Stonecroft reached a scale where the capacity of the cellar had to be increased while at the same time effort had to be put into international marketing. Both happened. The cellar can handle over 100 tonnes of grapes. Nicholas and John Buck of Te Mata helped Limmer open up excellent marketing opportunities in England, and his neighbour, John Hancock of Trinity Hill, did the same in Australia. He increased his prices in all markets, often at the insistence of his distributors.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his specialised scientific training, Alan Limmer remains an intuitive viticulturist and vinifier in the Denis Irwin and Kim Salonius mould. When a visitor from the University of California, Davis was coming to visit he became concerned at the simplicity of his scientific equipment:
And I thought, he’s going to expect to see a wine lab – all I’ve got would fit in a shoebox – the only thing I ever really measure is sulphurs to try to keep them within a certain allowance.
Limmer understands the complexity of the interactions between vine and wine in their ‘natural’ environments, uses his science and experience in establishing what he should do, and simply gets on with it.
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