This story was first published in New Zealand Winegrower magazine, August 2016.
How times change. The man who once said he would never ever grow grapes in Marlborough is now making wine from the grapes he was never going to plant.
That man is Murray Bishell and the wine is Caythorpe Sauvignon Blanc.
The first vintage was 2015 and it marked a sea change in the way the family grows grapes, says Bishell’s son, Simon, who manages the vineyard today.
The vineyard land had been in the family for six generations but it was given over to traditional farming, until the 1980s.
“Grapes were not dad’s natural passion so I respect his ability to innovate and recognize that we had to change,” says Simon, of his parents’ decision to plant grapes.
And so, in 1987, Murray and his late wife, Diana, planted the grapes that saw them become one of the earliest contract grape growers in Marlborough – right next door to the original Montana Fairhall Estate on the Wairau Plains.
“I’ve always had a desire to take the raw material to the finished product and be involved all the way along the value chain; I think that with all farming it’s important to look at adding as much value as possible to all products,” says Simon.
While Murray is now retired, Simon and his brother, Scott, head up the viticulture – and it has changed significantly since they produced their first wine.
The biggest change was in terms of yield. It was a realization that came only after they began picking for their own wine.
“We began to realize that we want to try and bring out the best in our grapes; to accentuate the highs. It is really difficult to judge what you need to do to make grapes taste a certain way, until tasting what the wine’s like from your property. When our grapes go to other wineries, they all get tipped on top of a big pile from other wineries too, and it’s not until we make a single vineyard estate wine that we can identify the particular characteristics of our specific vineyard. From here we can think how we can intensify the flavours and get more of a thiol base or more mineral notes, as potential flavours we may want to accentuate,” he says.
“In terms of changes that we have made, it’s as much about being site specific as it is about reducing yield. On some loam soils, restricting yield can help to develop more complexity and intensity of flavour but on lighter soils, the work we have had to do is about reduction of yield.”
Instead of putting a blanket number on how the whole vineyard should operate, Bishell says that he and Scott are learning about the importance of isolating particular areas within the vineyard to work out what factors they need to work on.
“We’ve only had to work with Sauvignon Blanc so far but we can see it enjoys nitrogen and potassium. It’s still very early days for Pinot Noir,” says Bishell.
The Caythorpe Family Estate vineyard consists of 115 hectares; 90% of which is devoted to Sauvignon Blanc with the remainder split three ways; 5% Chardonnay, 2.5% Riesling and 2.5% Pinot Noir.
The first wine from the property was last year’s 2015 Caythorpe Family Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, made by Jeremy McKenzie at Isabel Estate.
This year the Bishells have added a Pinot Noir from their property but quantities are miniscule compared to the Sauvignon Blanc. This means that it is difficult to pinpoint changes that may need to occur in the growing of Pinot Noir.
The first Pinot Noir will be released later this year and Chardonnay will join the Caythorpe stable of wines in 2018, all going according to plan.
Riesling is trickier to predict – “It seems to be a grape that everyone loves but not many people seem to like paying money for it, so I’m not in too much of a hurry to delve down that path. I think there’s an appetite for Riesling but it’s not high up on my priority list at this stage,” Bishell says.
The ultimate aim is to use 20 per cent of the Caythorpe Estate’s grapes to produce their own wine while retaining relationships with wine companies to turn the other 80% into cash flow.
Bishell says that the family’s change in focus on growing is a win-win for both the Caythorpe family and for the companies they grow for.