Brent Marris had an idyllic childhood growing up in Marlborough. “My memories revolve around family, friends and freedom,” he says. “I am the eldest of six – at one stage there were six of us under the age of six! – and on the weekend we would all pile into the car and take a Sunday drive, often to the nearby coast.”
Marris also remembers the transition from farming and cropping to vineyards in the region, commencing in 1973. His father, John, was a stock and station agent with Pyne Gould Guinness, and had a huge knowledge of the region and the farmers. Montana Wines had targeted Marlborough as the next area for vineyards and approached John to purchase as much suitable land as possible in a very short time frame. In 1973 he famously bought nine Marlborough farms in 10 days for Montana Wines. “Once this goal was achieved, he was asked to join Montana and take over the conversion from farmland to vineyard. It was a very exciting time,” says Marris.
Father and son went on to develop the hugely successful Wither Hills. It was one of Marris’s career highlights working so closely with his father during this time. “We’d always had a shared love of viticulture and business but this took it to a new level.”
After selling Wither Hills in 2002, Marris went on to establish Marisco Vineyards with his wife Rosemary. “Making wine was, and still is, my passion,” he says. “Rosemary and I spent a year looking for a special piece of land that we finally found on the banks of the Waihopai River, a unique 268-hectare site. We needed to be in control of our own vineyards and our own winemaking. I love rich family heritage and was so excited by the concept of drawing on my family history for this new venture. Marisco is derived from our original family name of de Marisco, dating back to the 11th century.”
With the Marisco brands growing exponentially, particularly The Ned and The Kings series, Marris needed more land. “Our Waihopai Valley vineyard had proven itself. Leefield Station, a 2200-hectare site, four kilometres further up the valley, with 650 hectares available as potential vineyard, came onto the market. I knew we had to own it.
“My childhood memories of Dad drafting sheep as a stock agent include Leefield Station. Dad couldn’t believe it when we bought the property, iconic for the region. We have a family memorial to him on site.
“Current day Leefield Station gives us a unique marketing approach. Our buyers see all that NZ can offer on one site: rivers, mountains, vineyards, farmland with sheep and cattle, native bush, hunting and casual entertaining ‘Kiwi style’. The whole project has been, and is, exciting and stimulating. There is a genuine love of the property by all involved.”
THE FUTURE OF MARISCO
Marris has many plans for Leefield, including preserving the history of the station and maintaining it as a commercially run sheep and cattle station. He also hopes to create a vineyard park and village feel.
Marris believes a good business revolves around building and maintaining relationships; communication; surrounding yourself with like-minded people; the ability to be fast and flexible; good governance; and the ability to understand compliance. He credits many things to his success including the help and support of his wife (the chairman of the board); his hardworking team; his genuine love of wine, land and Marlborough; and leaving a legacy for his children, which gives him great impetus.
“Emma, our eldest daughter, graduated in 2016 from Adelaide University with a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology with honours. We were so proud. She wants to earn her place in the company and the respect of her co-workers and bosses.” Emma is now assistant winemaker. “Sharing the love of viticulture, wine and the land, along with the excitement of the business, not only with Emma, but also with Rosemary and our other three daughters … is tremendously rewarding. Legacy changes your thinking. It slows it down, as with every decision you need to be considering the long term, the next generation. It makes it all worthwhile.”