Driving down two and a half hours from Blenheim to near Cheviot to visit Charles and Sandi Wiffen at their ‘Inverness’ homestead may seem a long journey, but it’s not as long as the journey they’ve taken in the Marlborough wine story. Charles and Sandi are long-established Marlburnians, and they farm cattle and sheep on their 14,000 ha property just a few kilometres north of Cheviot. They are welcoming and homely people, generous to a fault, and love the company of wine and food interested people. Visiting them will see them reveal their love of the land and all forms of farming.
The Wiffens were partners in a share-planted vineyard in 1980, which saw them as one of the original grape growers for Penfolds and Delegats, and supply some of the earliest and most important Marlborough wine labels. In 1997, it was time to set up their own label and the eponymous Charles Wiffen Wines was born.
The Wiffens have 50 ha of vines, planted in the Lower Wairau and Southern Valleys regions, on New Renwick Road, adjacent to Wither Hills. The varieties planted are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Their vineyard provides practically all the fruit for their wines (a little is sourced from friends’ vineyards), and the remainder is taken by other producers as premium quality resource. At present, the production is around 6,000 cases of wine annually, but they can rise to 15,000 cases.
Charles and Sandi have entrusted their winemaking to Anthony Ivicevich and James Rowan of West Brook, in Waimauku, West Auckland, and it has been well-worthwhile. The Charles Wiffen wines have earned an incredible number of top awards, the most recent being gold medals for the 2009 Gewurztraminer and Late Harvest Riesling, trophy for Champion Gewurztraminer, and joint Champion Winery of the Show at the 2011 Spiegelau International Wine Competition, judged in June. Charles and Sandi’s daughter Rebecca is a winemaker, at Lawson’s Dry Hills, where some of the fruit is initially processed before tankering up to Auckland. She works closely with the Wiffens’ viticultural team, the experienced Jason Tripe and Melissa Sutherland.