New Leefield Station owner steeped in Marlborough

Confidence in wine industry

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 12:00 22/11/2012
Brent Marris
Derek Flynn
Station call: Brent Marris is the latest owner of Leefield Station, in the Waihopai Valley, an early settler run with a history dating back to the 1840s when it was settled by Constantine Dillon.

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A man with deep roots in the Marlborough winegrowing industry takes ownership today of historic Leefield Station in the Waihopai Valley.

Brent Marris, of Marisco Vineyards, said the purchase reflected his confidence in Marlborough and the wine industry.

Auckland-based receivers KordaMentha, which took over Leefield from Auckland businessman Greg Olliver in 2009, accepted Marisco's tender for Leefield against 12 other parties in mid-October. However, the deal remained secret while legal requirements were met.

The price paid has not been released.

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, when it was sold to Per and Linda Rold, who sold it to Mr Olliver in 2006.

The deal includes three original Dillon properties brought together by Mr Olliver - Leefield, Omaka Downs and Tummil Flat.

Mr Marris said the 2000ha property appealed because of its mix of winegrowing and pastoral farming potential. He planned to plant grapes on up to 800ha and farm the rest.

Marisco Vineyards already owns a vineyard and winery across the Waihopai River from Leefield where it makes wines under the labels The Ned and The Kings.

Demand was outstripping production of these wines after two years of targeting emerging markets and spreading risk around the world, Mr Marris said. Sales were growing by 10,000 cases a year, equalling production from 100ha of vineyards, on the back of brand marketing and awards won.

"I have a vision of beautiful vineyards on the flat and rolling country at Leefield while retaining a station-like feel with the historic buildings and trees," Mr Marris said.

While he has little farming experience, he plans to draw on the knowledge of his father John Marris, a stock and station agent who switched to real estate and in 1973 bought nine Marlborough farms in 10 days for Montana Wines.

The father and son went on to develop and later sell Wither Hills Wines before Brent and his wife Rosemary established Marisco.

Mr Marris plans to plant mostly sauvignon blanc at Leefield alongside other varieties including pinot noir and pinot gris, plus niche blocks of syrah and viognier.

The farm will be stocked with angus cattle and romney sheep.

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The Marris family will make one of the five houses at Leefield their base in Marlborough, where he will continue to spend a lot of time. However, Auckland would remain home because it was the best base for marketing his wine.

Meanwhile, Marisco is advertising for growers and looking for more properties to buy with winegrowing potential.

He planned to pursue an Environment Court appeal against a Marlborough District Council decision to refuse the company's application to expand the capacity of its Guernsey Rd winery from 6000 to 10,000 tonnes a year.

- The Marlborough Express

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