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Caythorpe – Diversification for Success

By March 28, 2017No Comments
Caythorpe Family Estate is the fifth generation Marlborough agricultural venture of the Bishell family. They are the archetype successful New Zealand farmers who learned that survival, success and a profitable way of life must come from perseverance, innovation and diversification. Brothers Simon and Scott Bishell have 110 ha of vines on their 190 ha Middle Renwick Road property next to the Woodbourne airport, planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. The vines are tended along with various crops and stock, but the vineyard is by far the major earner for the family. Most of the fruit is sold via contract, but in 2015, the Bishells launched their own label ‘Caythorpe’ named after their great, great grandfather’s home village in England. The wine was a Sauvignon Blanc, made in a classical Wairau Valley style. Late last year, they released their second vintage of Sauvignon Blanc, this 2016 a step up. And now, they will release a 2016 Pinot Noir.

Scott Bishell with Riesling grapes – Caythorpe

A Family History of Innovation and Diversification
David Bishell and his family emigrated to New Zealand in 1876 and purchased 50 ha of farmland west of Blenheim, cleared it and installed drainage to grow crops. He embraced the new machinery that came available to increase productivity and reduce costs. This enabled him to purchase more land and diversified into breeding cattle and sheep for which he became renowned. David’s youngest son Wally took over the farm on his father’s death and furthered the reputation of the Bishells as sheep breeders, and built the main homestead during the war years from 1941 to 1943, a time of difficulty in obtaining supplies.

Wally’s son Mervyn took over Caythorpe farm on his father’s retirement and concentrated on seed growing. It was Mervyn who was secretly approached in 1972 by the Yukich brothers who wanted to purchase all of his property with the intention of planting grape vines. Mervyn turned them down, so the Yukich brothers bought the neighbouring property, which is now Brancott Estate.

Mervyn’s eldest son Murray took over the farm on Mervyn’s sudden passing in 1983, and along with it estate duties and responsibility for loans from land purchases. These costs were crippling, and Murray and his wife Diana identified the need to introduce and grow other crops to begin repaying the crippling debt. They planted cherries in 1985, then grapes in 1987. Buoyed by the success of viticulture, they expanded the plantings from the mid-1990s to 100 ha, and by the mid-2000s, had repaid all the taxes and loans.

Murray and Diana’s sons Scott and Simon took up joint responsibility for the farm in 2006 and they consolidated the vines as their primary produce, supplying fruit to a number of high profile wineries. Simon, trained in horticulture, was awarded N.Z. Young Viticulturist of the Year in 2008. Appreciating the standard of their fruit they launched the Caythorpe wine label in 2015. In the spirit of diversification, they have now a Pinot Noir in addition to Sauvignon Blanc from the 2016 vintage. The Bishells are investigating the making of a Riesling from the 2017 vintage, and plan to release a Chardonnay in 2019. In the meantime, last year, the family purchased the 16 ha ‘Piddinghoe’ vineyard in the Rapaura district which will allow addition blending and vineyard options. www.caythorpe.nz

Jeremy McKenzie, Isabel Estate – Caythorpe winemaker

A Visit to Caythorpe and a Tasting
I visited Simon and Scott Bishell of Caythorpe with my partner Sue Davies who distributes the Caythorpe wines in the greater Wellington region. The Bishells have Jeremy McKenzie of Isabel Estate as their winemaker, who we called in on. Isabel Estate is now owned by Pinnacle Drinks N.Z. which comes under the Australian Woolworths umbrella. They installed Jeremy as the chief winemaker in October 2014. The winery has undergone considerable refurbishment and vineyards revitalised, and Isabel has continued the making of estate wines. The estate fruit is supplemented by contract fruit, including that of the Bishells to make wines for the N.Z. Wine Cellars portfolio.

Jeremy recounted the recent history and improvements and showed us finished samples of 2016 Isabel Estate Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from tank. The wines were extremely interesting and of real quality and character, demonstrating Jeremy’s long experience and expertise with Marlborough fruit, having worked as winemaker for Villa Maria and Allan Scott before. Jeremy advises the Bishells on viticultural and wine style issues, as well as making the Caythorpe wines.

We then went to the recently renovated Caythorpe homestead which serves as the base for the farm. Simon and his wife Sara live in this beautiful two-storied house, which faithfully retains the character of the 1940s, when it was built. (Scott lives in a newer house, also on the Caythorpe property, as does Scott and Simon’s father Murray in another house.)

Scott Bishell & Simon Bishell = Caythorpe
and Sue Davies – Wine2Trade
Simon and Scott put on a tasting of the Caythorpe wines, with the inaugural 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the current release 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, and the new, about-to-be-released 2016 Pinot Noir. Here are my brief notes:

Caythorpe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Bright light straw-yellow colour. The nose is softly dense with depth and solid presentation of pungent passionfruit aromas, and the beginnings of secondary bean-like development. Dry to taste, this has full, up-front fruit flavours of passionfruit and tropical fruits with subtle gooseberry and dark herbal notes. Some phenolic textures mark the line, with soft acidity lending roundness. This has good weight and presence, but is still refreshing, and it is drinking on its plateau now. (Click here to see my full, original review.)

Caythorpe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Pale straw-yellow colour. This has a very fresh and youthfully tight nose with gooseberry and passionfruit aromas entwined and lifted with some floral elements. An elegantly proportioned wine, the palate features bright, lively and refreshingly juicy flavours of gooseberries, fresh herbs, blackcurrant leaf and passionfruit. The mouthfeel is very fine featured with subtle phenolics and zesty acidity. Still youthful in expression. Not quite as ripe as the 2015, but more refined. (Click here for my full, original review.)

Caythorpe Marlborough Pinot Noir 2016
Even ruby-red colour. The nose is initially light, but unfolds to reveal fresh, bright, primary red cherry and berry aromas, along with subtle refreshing herb nuances. Medium-bodied, this is up-front with sweet and succulent red cherry and berry fruit flavours, unveiling herbal detail. The mouthfeel is refreshing and juicy, with balanced, supple tannin extraction and fine, lacy acidity. This is still restrained, and will no doubt reveal more. It is pretty and will continue to be so as it develops. Bottled last week. Clone 115, fully destemmed, given a cold soak and fermented to 13.3% alc., the wine spending 22 days on skins, and aged 11 months in seasoned French oak. 5 barrels made.

What was impressive was the accessibility of all of the wines. The Pinot Noir is clearly designed to complement the Sauvignon Blanc wines, and made in a supple, fruity, approachable style. At this stage, the Bishells have yet to finalise a retail price, but are considering it should be around the $25.00 mark. If it is, that’s very good value. I’ll have a full review of this wine after it is released.

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