Stuart Marfell: From Sheep Shearing to Winemaking

When I sat down for lunch with winemaker Stuart Marfell to taste two of the wines he makes, Goldwater and Dashwood, I was taken aback when he said that he worked harvest in 1989 for the first vineyard planted in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand.

Stu Marfell

It turns out that while we think of Marlborough as a region with hundreds of thousands of vines, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Marlborough is the wine region in the northern part of the South Island of New Zealand. There are two valleys in the region, the Wairau Valley to the south and the Awatere Valley to the north. The planting of vines across the valley began in the Wairau Valley in 1973. In 1986, Vavasour Wines was the first to plant vines in the Awatere Valley.

The wine industry in this region at the time was not developed and there were no formal systems in place. When it came time to harvest the first vintage in 1989, the local farmers’ wives jumped in to help pick grapes.

Marfell grew up on a 2,000-acre sheep farm in Marlborough, just next door to the Vavasour vineyards in the Awatere. Marfell was 9 years old at the time and his mother brought him with her to help pick the grapes.

While he grew up hand carting hay, drenching and sheep shearing, he did not want to be a sheep farmer. He said that he found picking grapes “so much more exciting than sheep farming.” With wine, Marfell found that he could combine his two passions — his love for farming and his affinity for science.

Dashwood and Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir

Read the complete story in the Napa Valley Register.