The Marris family can claim the deepest roots in the Marlborough wine story: they have been involved since … well, before there was a vine in Marlborough.
Brent’s father John, a stock and station agent who switched to real estate, famously bought nine Marlborough farms in 10 days for Montana Wines in 1973.
Father and son went on to develop and later sell Wither Hills Wines; Brent and his wife Rosemary established Marisco.
Now they have moved to ensure that the next generation – their four daughters – will share that heritage.
In 2013 Brent and Rosemary bought historic Leefield Station in the Waihopai Valley from the receivers. One of the original farms in Marlborough, it dates from the 1840s.
Their vision is about much more than grapes and wine, although there are vines and a Leefield by Marisco label: “It is about controlling our destiny,” explains Brent.
The property covers 5200ha of flat and rolling hill-country. The original homestead and many of the farm buildings, including the traditional Kiwi red-and-white woolshed, remain.
Years ago it was an Angus cattle stud; Brent has reinstated it, and introduced Romney sheep.
When complete, Leefield will be home to 650ha in vineyards, about 200ha parkland and streams, the stock will have 1050ha of hillsides to themselves, and there’s 300ha of native bush. There’s also a huge dam that has been designed to look like a lake.
Some 400ha has been planted in sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay; there are no plans for other varieties.
Marisco already owns a vineyard and winery across the Waihopai River from Leefield where it makes wines under the labels The Ned and The Kings.
All this is, however, just the framework of the family’s concept. “We already have a vineyard in a valley that is known to produce phenomenal wines,” Brent says. “We are making wines that are of the soil, of the shingle, of the situation, of the place.
“What we want to do is bring guests – national and international – to Leefield to taste Marlborough produce and embrace the whole experience of a high-country station.
“Our guests will taste what is grown on the property – Angus, Romney, walnuts, honey and the game, such as deer and goats.”
It will be, he says, an extremely private and extra-special experience. It’s not for the public – guests will largely be drawn from the company’s extensive network of international wine buyers (Marisco exports about 80% of its production) – and they won’t offer accommodation at the station.
“We will take them to our river hut or the woolshed, or up to the lake, and cook for them with food that is grown on the property, over a fire under 120-year-old gum trees. They will take Leefield-branded woolen clothing home with them.”
And, of course, they will drink Leefield wine. Brent has produced two vintages from the property so far: the 2016 wines will be on sale in New Zealand about the time you’re reading this.
“The label is positioned between The Ned and The Kings, and the feedback we’re getting is that that decision is proving right.
“We launched it in New Zealand. There is demand from overseas and we will take it offshore, but we decided to look after New Zealand first.”
And that is the essence of the Leefield vision. “You have to believe in the region, you have to believe in your people and the people who are supporting you,” emphasises Brent.
“This is what French and Italian and Spanish wine estates have been doing for centuries, forever.”
And as he and Rosemary create a heritage for the next generation, Brent can call on the one before. He has little farming experience, but his father knows a thing or two about life on the land in Marlborough.
169 Guernsey Road,