The development of a 600 hectare vineyard has begun on an historic farm in the Waihopai Valley, expanding production for Marisco Vineyards.
Marisco owner Brent Marris purchased the 2000ha Leefield Station last year and began developing some of the land into vineyards almost exactly one year on.
Leefield is one of the original runs in Marlborough, dating back to the 1840s when it was settled by Constantine Dillon. Originally about 20,000 hectares, it was broken into smaller blocks but the home block remained in the Dillon family until 1988.
Mr Marris started establishing an 85ha vineyard of 200,000 sauvignon blanc plants about a month ago, and aims to put a further 100ha into grapes each year for the next five years.
"From a branding perspective, if I could have 200 hectares of that 600 hectares today I would have the market to sell the wine, so that's the confidence I've got going forward," he said.
Processing more grapes would not be a problem at the winery, which currently processes 300ha worth of wines and sells them under labels The Ned and The Kings Series.
"Resource consent for the winery to process the grapes is all but complete . . . all the infrastructure is there apart from a couple of tanks."
The vineyard would cover less than half of the station, with Mr Marris opting to keep 900ha of high country available to farm about 5000 stock units of sheep and cattle, and 300ha for development of native bush. They would start by collecting seedlings of hebes, flaxes, manuka and kanuka from existing native bush at the station, which they would develop into a nursery, he said.
"The idea is to plant some of those native plants down the rivers so we end up with pockets of native bush because we know they can handle the environment."
Retaining farm life on the station was important to be able to showcase Marlborough and the Marisco brand, he said.
"It means that if we bring customers or buyers on to the property it's a much greater proposition we can offer as far as the experience."
Clients and buyers had already visited the new station, where "not a lot of business is talked but a lot of business is achieved . . . On the back of that experience we are just selling more and more."
Eight hundred hectares in total was being dedicated to vineyard land, although about 200ha would include the rivers and native bush in the surrounding area.
By the time it was complete, the vineyard would grow sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris and possibly "one or two other varieties", depending on the soils.
- The Marlborough Express