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Marisco Family Vineyards: A True Legacy

Marlborough is home to New Zealand’s largest growing wine region, producing some of the finest-tasting wines our country has to offer. In a region teeming with vineyards, Marisco stands out from the crowd; the family-owned and operated business is renowned for their award-winning success and is the producer of wine brands including The Ned, Leefield Station, The Kings Series, The Craft Series, and Diamond Heart, which they export to 16 countries around the world.

Brent Marris is the man, the myth, and the legend behind Marisco Vineyards, and the first locally born and raised qualified winemaker within the Marlborough region. Prior to becoming the founder, proprietor and winemaker for his family business, he started his career as the chief winemaker for Delegat’s Wine Estate and Oyster Bay.

In 1994, he founded Wither Hills, before selling it to Lion Nathan in 2002, while still maintaining a significant role as managing director and chief winemaker until 2007.

“In 2003, I was searching for a new project and found an exceptional 265-hectare property on the banks of the Waihopai River in Marlborough. This property would become the home of Marisco Vineyards and The Ned brand. The Waihopai Valley is our home, and what I love about the Marlborough region is the hot days, cold nights, rivers running past our vineyards and the starry night sky. Due to the unprecedented success of The Ned brand, we purchased Leefield Station, also in the Waihopai Valley, increasing our family company vineyard holdings to approximately 1,000 hectares, along with a further 1,100 hectares of sheep and beef farming plus 300 hectares of wonderful native bush,” Brent said.

Brent’s love for viticulture began when he was growing up on one of the first contract vineyards in Marlborough, established by his parents in 1978. His father, John Marris, pioneered the local viticulture and winemaking industry by sourcing and identifying land for the first commercial vineyards in the region for Montana before carrying on as Operations and Viticultural Advisor for ten years. “He cultivated my lifelong passion for wine as I began working on vines at a young age,” Brent said. “He inspired and encouraged me to complete a degree from Roseworthy Agricultural College (South Australia) with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology (winemaking). Winemaking is all about passion, and my passion and inspiration come from my family. Both current and past.”

Replicating Brent’s childhood, his four daughters have also worked in the vineyards and winery since they were teenagers and have a clear understanding of the growing and winemaking processes. Brent is also supported by his wife, Rosemary, and a dedicated, passionate team of over 85 permanent staff, some of them working for the business for over 15 years.

“Anton Rasmussen, our GM of Viticulture, and Siobhan Wilson, our GM of Sales and Marketing, have been with us since the start of Marisco Vineyards. Matt Mitchell, our GM of Wineries, has been with Marisco since 2012. Each of my four daughters have worked in the business at some point in their lives, whether that be during harvest or driving tractors over the summer. Now, two of my daughters still actively work for Marisco Vineyards. My eldest daughter, Emma, followed in my footsteps and completed a winemaking degree from Roseworthy College in Adelaide. She worked for the company for seven years before pursuing a more active role in the world of business, but is still involved in making wine for the company. One of my twins, Georgia, has been with Marisco since 2019, working closely with Siobhan.”

Building a family legacy is a true highlight for Brent, which he mentioned makes for very interesting dinner conversations. Along with the business being family-focused, the team also care a lot about how they can safeguard the future of their resources and the environment with their three sustainability pillars: people, economy, and environment – creating value in every outcome.

“We rely on the use of land, water and other resources and therefore strive to improve efficiency, management practices and waste reduction so that we can protect the environment and the communities where we operate. We are monitoring our carbon footprint and are continually working to reduce our emissions.”

Marisco Vineyards has been part of the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand Programme (SWNZ) since 2008, which helps the industry continue to improve their standards of workmanship and sustainability efforts within their vineyards and wineries.

“Here at Marisco Vineyards, our passion for winemaking is deeply rooted in the diverse terroirs of New Zealand’s renowned Marlborough region. We have five trophy properties with over 1,000 hectares of vines planted.”

“We predominantly produce Sauvignon Blanc but we also grow Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (also used to make Rosé), and a small amount of Syrah, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Viognier.”

The wine brands that Marisco have produced are key components of Brent’s life, past and present. Each brand has come from a place of nostalgia, ancestry, a connection to the land and tributes to family members. “The Ned, launched in 2005, was my passion project and represents the vibrant diversity that is so prevalent in the Marlborough wine-growing region. The Ned mountain, in the Wither Hills range, was my old stomping ground, a place that I roamed freely as a child. It served as a playground in my youth and these wines encapsulate ‘young at heart’ – a true expression of the energy and liveliness of adventure in every bottle.”

After receiving much adoration for The Ned brand, Brent launched The King Series in 2009 after seeking inspiration from his family history and the often scandalous and notorious stories of the de Mariscos. “In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the de Mariscos inhabited Lundy Island off the south-west coast of England, engaging in a tempestuous relationship with the monarchy of the time. William de Marisco was said to be one of the illegitimate sons of King Henry the First. At times receiving favour, and at others displeasure, the de Mariscos’ acts of piracy and treason defined their place in history.”

Leefield Station, a historic sheep and beef farm, was purchased by the Marris family in 2012. This wine range was a celebration of the land – the grapes, animals, native bush, and wealth of biodiversity. “It’s a place where agriculture and viticulture thrive together to create better wines in a better way for a better future,” Brent added. The two other wine brands, the Craft Series range and Diamond Heart, are dedicated to key people that have been integral to the growth and success of Marisco Vineyards, including Brent’s father, John, along with Brent’s wife and co-owner, Rosemary.

“We are a progressive wine company, committed to building brands and taking the unique story of Marlborough wine to the world. Our family view has been to control our destiny – we own our vineyards and wineries and having close relationships with our world-wide customers. The Waihopai Valley is a unique, wonderful grape growing microclimate. Our viticultural and winemaking teams really know how to dial up the special flavours and characteristics of this exciting place,” Brent said.

“We are currently focusing on ‘better, not bigger’. We have over 1,000 hectares under vine, a strong sustainability programme, great integration of farming on Leefield Station with our vineyards, two wineries that are extremely modern and wine styles that the consumers really enjoy. So now is not the time to rest on our laurels, but to ensure we maintain a company that we are proud to hand over to future generations.”