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Caythorpe – A Sense of Place

By March 22, 2016No Comments
Wine authenticity rests in essence on a sense of place. The concept of terroir, the representation of a site, district and regionality are keys to honesty and truth in wine. Caythorpe Farm in the middle of the Wairau Valley in Marlborough has this sense of place. The Bishell Family have been on their property since 1880 and the fifth generation continue to live and work on it. Scott and Simon Bishell are the archetypical contemporary farmers who have followed the lead of their forebears in creating opportunities for growing a successful business. The 191 ha farm has lucerne, red clover and oats in crops, along with pasture, plus sheep and cattle as stock. The Bishells also specialise in cherries, with 2ha planted to various modern varieties. However, vineyard now makes up 110 ha (57.6%) of the farm area. It is a fully integrated operation, and the overriding feel is one of harmony. Scott, with a broad agricultural background oversees the crop and stock, while Simon who has a more specialised horticultural training is responsible for the cherries and vineyard. As a family business, the two brothers work very closely together.

Caythorpe Farm is sited on Middle Renwick Road, adjacent to Blenheim airport, and thus occupies valuable real estate. Throughout the generations, the family has strived to honour their land and build on their unique history. Scott and Simon are currently renovating the homestead on the property, and visitors will be able to connect with the past there. The Bishell Family were approached by group of out-of-town businessmen in 1972 who wanted to purchase the Caythorpe land, but declined. The businessmen bought the neighbouring property which became one of the first parcels of land planted in vines to form Montana Wines, which is now Brancott Estate. Scott and Simon’s father Murray said he would never plant grapes, but changed his mind by planting 8 ha of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in 1987 to diversify the farm business, recognising the growth of the luxury goods market which included wine. The contract supply of grapes to the likes of Sileni, Villa Maria, Constellation and Delegats is now a major part of the Caythorpe Farm operation.

Simon and Scott Bishell
with 30 y.o. ungrafted MS clone Sauvignon Blanc

The Caythorpe Own Label
After over 25 years of supplying grapes to the wine industry, the Bishells decided to establish their own label. The growing and making of their own wines has required a change of philosophy from the contact grower focus on “brix and yield”, these being the parameters by which the fruit has normally been sold. The Bishells sought the input of Jeremy McKenzie with whom they have had a long-time relationship with through his days at Allan Scott and Villa Maria. To ensure the high quality of their own-label wines, McKenzie espoused the requirement of grapes with intense flavours, based on the thiol-expression of passionfruit and tropical fruit. The first wine, a 2015 Sauvignon Blanc was made by McKenzie at the Isabel facility. This was based on a selection of fruit from blocks identified as showing the preferred intensity of flavours. Interestingly, the fruit from the oldest Sauvignon Blanc plants, 30 y.o. ungrafted MS clone were not included The wine is a successful one (click here to see my review).

Moving forward, the blocks identified for the supply of fruit for the Caythorpe label have been managed differently, including yield reduction, to maximise flavour development. While Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 100 ha of the total 110 ha planted, there are plans to look at Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the Caythorpe label. There are 4 ha of clone 6 Chardonnay, planted in 1996, but this is not seen as the ideal performer, and more modern clones will go into the ground in the spring. It will be interesting to see how the 3 ha of clone 115 Pinot Noir, planted in 2002 performs for the Caythorpe label.  It is a reliable clone, but the increased availability of other clones may see additional planting too.  There are 3 ha of Riesling, but the Bishells are aware of the difficulty of selling Riesling in the market. It is possible that Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling from the existing vines be introduced under another label to test the market, while the new and more serious plantings come to fruition.

It is an exciting and challenging phase of business that the Bishell Family of Caythorpe Farm are entering into. They are under no illusions about the enormity of the task and the extra input that their own brand necessitates. However the five generations of history and continued search for diverse and profitable use of their land suggests that whatever venture they turn their hand to will succeed. I look forward to the growth of the Caythorpe label and tasting what will be increasingly sophisticated, quality Marlborough wines. www.caythorpe.nz

Simon Bishell testing for brix with refractometer


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