Marlborough wine pioneer celebrates 40 years

Pioneers of New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region and its signature varietals – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir - Brancott Estate celebrated 40 years since the first vineyard planting in August 2013.

The booming Marlborough wine industry - in the sun-drenched northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island - goes back to 24 August 1973 when the first vines were planted on the land then known as Marlborough Brancott Vineyard.

On that day - witnessed by a crowd of local media, politicians and business leaders - Brancott founder and New Zealand wine-growing visionary Frank Yukich bravely predicted that Marlborough wines would "become world-famous". Since then, wines from the terroir have received many prestigious international awards and accolades.

Pioneering spirit

Brancott Estate Chief Winemaker Patrick Materman - who first joined the company in 1990 as a cellar-hand - says the Marlborough wine industry has witnessed amazing development.

"With all of the research and technological advances in the wine industry in recent years, it’s amazing to look back and see a real pioneering spirit infusing Marlborough, from using a gun-sight to lay out the rows in 1973 to getting the community to make paper cones to protect the young vines."

The first vines planted in Marlborough were predominantly riesling sylvaner and cabernet sauvignon, and around 750,000 cuttings were planted in the first season. However, many were replaced in the first few years with other varieties including sauvignon blanc.

"A whole range of vines were planted in those early years, both of popular grapes like cabernet sauvignon and riesling and old-world varieties unfamiliar to New Zealand wine drinkers at the time, like sauvignon blanc and pinot noir," says Materman.

"Not everything we tried succeeded but the ones that did have been spectacular. What we’ve learned from that is to always challenge ourselves."

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

While Brancott Estate is best known for creating the original Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it was also the first to commercially produce Marlborough Pinot Noir and, more recently, Marlborough Sauvignon Gris.

Materman describes pioneering a completely new variety in a region as "a rare opportunity".

"But, we have never rested on our laurels and never stopped exploring the viticulture and winemaking potential of the region. After four decades, we are still exploring the potential of our vineyards and we are excited to see what we discover in the next 40 years."

"We’ve explored expressions of sauvignon blanc, pioneered other varietals and introduced winemaking and viticulture technologies that have grown our brand and the winemaking industry of New Zealand. And we’ve proudly collected an impressive suite of awards along the way."

Materman says the recently launched "icon wine" Brancott Estate Chosen Rows is testament to the winery’s on-going commitment to Marlborough and the pioneering vision that created the original Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Brancott Estate: Timeline

  • 1973 - first commercial planting in Marlborough, 750,000 vines planted in the first season
  • 1975 - plantings included riesling, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer and pinot noir
  • 1976 - first harvest of Marlborough Riesling Sylvaner and Marlborough Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1977 - Marlborough winery opened, establishing wine-making as well as viticulture in Marlborough region; first machine harvester purchased
  • 1978 - Marlborough Riesling 1977 wins gold at International Wine and Spirits Competition
  • 1979 - first release of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Marlborough Pinot Noir, both won awards nationally in their first vintage
  • 1980 - Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 1979 wins first gold medal at NZ Easter Show (first vintage); Marlborough Gewürztraminer 1979 wins gold at International Wine and Spirit Competition
  • 1981 - first commercial export, to Germany; first release of Fumé Blanc
  • 1982 - first shipment to UK; first Marlborough Chardonnay produced
  • 1987 - first Marlborough Food and Wine Festival held at Brancott Vineyard
  • 1989 - first Coquard wine press in Southern Hemisphere installed
  • 1990 - Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 1989 wins Marquis de Goulaine at the 21st International Wines & Spirits Competition; Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visits Brancott Vineyard and plants a vine
  • 1992 - export sales reach NZD10m ( more than four times the value of exports in 1989)
  • 1995 - winery awarded ISO 9001, first in Australasia
  • 1997 - Marlborough Chardonnay 1996 voted International Wine of the Year at the London International Wine Challenge & winemaker Andy Frost wins White Winemaker of the Year; founder member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ), providing best practice model of environmental practice in the vineyard and winery
  • 2000 - world-first tipping tanks installed at Brancott Winery
  • 2001 - Patrick Materman wins Winestate Magazine’s NZ Winemaker of the Year
  • 2007 - Marlborough Sparkling first released
  • 2008 - first NZ wine company to achieve five top international industry standards relating to quality, environment, health and safety, for all its vineyards, wineries and packaging facility
  • 2010 - first vintage of Marlborough Sauvignon Gris, an ancient varietal rare in its home country of France
  • 2011 - opening of Brancott Estate Heritage Centre overlooking Brancott Vineyard; Brancott Estate Official Wine Sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2011; Brancott Estate Letter Series ‘B’ Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc released, wins international gold medals and trophies; Sparkling Pinot Gris released
  • 2012 - Brancott Estate Flight, naturally lighter alcohol wine wins gold at Easter Show in full-strength Sauvignon Blanc section
  • 2013 - launch of icon Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Brancott Estate Chosen Rows; Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wins gold at Concours Mondial du Sauvignon

More information

European influences on New Zealand wine

Classic New Zealand Wine Trail