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NZ newcomer toasts success

A winery which produced its first vintage just two years ago is celebrating after being named New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year by the International Wine & Spirits Competition.

Marisco Vineyards was founded in his native Marlborough by Brent Marris (left), former chief winemaker at both Wither Hills and Oyster Bay.

Setting out his ambitions for this latest project, Marris explained: “I wanted to move away from contract growers so I spent a year trying to find a specific site – I didn’t want a patchwork spread around like everyone else.”

So far this model is proving a commercial success. Marris reported that he has been approached by a number of large international retailers, as well as securing a deal with the major Chinese distributor, Dynasty Fine Wines Group. “The key players around the world get it,” he remarked. “I can do 100,000 cases of a single vineyard wine.”

As for more traditional markets, Marris describes the UK as “pretty exciting”, having doubled his volumes here in the last 12 months, although he added: “I’m deciding whether I have to put a brake on because of the exchange rate”.

The brand has achieved the same growth levels in Australia, while in Germany Marisco has won exclusive representation for the New Zealand category in the 250 nationwide outlets of Jacques’ Wein Depot. The company also began selling to the US and Canadian markets this year.

In his winery, Marris has invested in state-of-the-art equipment, reaching beyond the wine world into wider industry. His pumping system is based on those used in the dairy industry, the meat industry informed his effluent removal technology and he also employed specialist IT technicians.

As a final flourish, he revealed that the team behind the winery’s construction even boasted the worldwide director of design for Saatchi & Saatchi.

With the winery finished, Marris has clear views about the style of Sauvignon Blanc he aims to produce, observing: “As a winemaker I’m trying to go back to what made New Zealand famous in the ‘80s, going back to green, grassy flavours – a lot of the wines have gone very tropical.”

In response to the suggestion that a number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs appear to be pursuing aroma at the expense of flavour, Marris emphasised his own approach: “When you pick slightly under- or over-ripe, you end up with dominant, punchy aromas at the start but then it’s quite short in the middle.

“We’re working hard on not over-cropping to get lots of natural glycerol coming through so we’re getting more mouthfeel.”

Marris also stressed his efforts to ensure mouthfeel in his Chardonnay, a variety he initially held back from working with in favour of Pinot Gris because: “I’m not one of those people who can make a Chardonnay that’s unoaked and the whole world was going through an unoaked phase.”

Now however, he is vinifying his Chardonnay in large, used puncheons using wild yeast. Instead of employing the traditional pigeage lees stirring technique, Marris expressed a preference for rotating the barrel every few days.

“It stops the air going in and the dead yeast cells at the bottom end up staying stuck, but the lighter yeasts float around. It’s a gentler approach ­– I don’t want a buttery, Californian style Chardonnay,” he remarked.

Marris offered equally firm views on his preferred style of Pinot Noir, arguing: “A lot of our Pinots are almost too porty; people leave the grapes on the vine too long. I’m going for elegance and power, but I don’t want power to come from sweetness of fruit.”

Indeed, he extended this criticism beyond Pinot Noir, saying: “A lot of New Zealand wines are too sweet.”

Outlining his future plans, Marris pointed to a further 20 acres left to plant, expressed a desire to “get more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted on the cooler sites”, and enthused about a small quantity of “stunning” barrel fermented Viognier, which he is considering for inclusion in his on-trade focused range, The King’s Series.

As for the prospect of introducing other varieties, he confirmed: “I’m not going to go down the Grüner Veltliner, Marsanne, Roussanne route; it’s just not where my head’s at. I’ll get more excitement from working for another three years on the Pinot Gris that catapulted us into the market.”

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