New Zealand grape grower tells his story of the ‘next generation’ wine legacy
STANDFIRST: From the vineyards of the Waihopai Valley in the Marlborough region of New Zealand to Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital of Armagh – the founder and creator of the iconic ‘the Ned’ wine label talks to Eleanor McGillie about wines, legacy and land connections
Brent Marris is no stranger to Northern Ireland. In fact he has been here every year for the past 10 years because wine sales show that Northern Ireland is a nation of wine lovers. Every 24 hours, 15,000 bottles of Marisco Vineyard wines are consumed with a large proportion of those being consumed in Northern Ireland according to the winery’s market research.
The famous wine maker, who hosted a wine dinner at Uluru Bar & Grill in Armagh, says Northern Ireland holds a special place in his heart because of our humour, our connection with our land and the infectious culture which makes Brent Marris feel right at home.
But his real home is 12,000 miles away in New Zealand on the Waihopai River banks. Brent Marris grew up in Marlborough and his father was one of the region’s first contract grape growers. He then went on to work his winemaking magic at the region’s Oyster Bay winery before being part of the team which created the Wither Hills label.
In 2003, having sold Wither Hills, Brent created Marisco Vineyards, in the Waihopai Valley where he and his wife Rosemary have since created the iconic ‘the Ned’ label – a label which he hopes is the foundation of the ‘next generation’ wine legacy.
So the morning after the night before, at the new Uluru Bar & Grill in Armagh, Brent Marris sips on a latte and describes his connection with the breathtaking landscape of rugged hills and braided rivers which are dotted with vineyards and olive groves.
“Wine making is in our family,” Brent said. “My father was the region’s first contract grape grower and, like many young boys, I too was influenced by my father and what he was doing. Like people in Northern Ireland, we connect with our land too which is what makes our relationship very special.
“The highest peak in the untouched valleys is called the Ned which we felt was the perfect name which we use for our label of premium wines which are sourced from the best fruit in the valley.
“Our connection with the land goes back generations but what we are creating is our next generation wine legacy. My daughter Emma, aged 21, is now studying the same degree in winemaking which I did and my youngest daughter, Claudia, aged 14, is determined to enter into the family business. It’s very similar here in Northern Ireland because we hear stories from food and wine enthusiasts about how producers here love operating family businesses from land which they have a close connection with.
“Northern Ireland is a special place for us because people here connect with Marisco Vineyards because of what we produce. In the same way we connect with Northern Ireland for everything produced here and the way you celebrate food and drink as key player in your tourism sector is commendable.
“The team at Uluru here have told us about plans in Northern Ireland for the 2016 Year of Food Tourism initiative. It is fantastic that you guys put so much emphasis on the contribution of food and drink and, what is apparent, is you all have a good story to tell about the land and about food and drink here and the role it plays in your lives.”
With more than 20 years experience grape growing, winemaking and marketing experience, Brent Marris’s history of crafting wines for the world are testament to his skill and passion. His outstanding ability to blend varietals in a manner that best represent regional style and character is renowned.
Having spent time in Armagh’s historic city centre and in Belfast, where he listened to stories from wine enthusiasts, Brent left Northern Ireland with more fond memories before travelling to Germany, England and Florida.
“People here are infectious in their character and humour, and, having cemented relationships with Uluru Bar & Grill and County Armagh based Robb Brothers Wine Merchants, I will of course be back.”
Dean Coppard, head chef at Uluru Bar & Grill, said: “The wines from Marsico Vineyards totally complement our authentic Australian cuisine. The new Craft Series – Pride & Glory, Exemplar and The Journey, is already going down a treat with our customers. It’s an honour to host Brent Marris who is a total legend in the world of winemaking with a global reputation for producing award winning premium wines.
“We look forward to welcoming him back next year when we will truly be celebrating Food Tourism.”
The Ned selection of wines is available at The Wine Store at Emerson’s Supermarket in Armagh and County Armagh-based wine wholesalers, Robb Brothers Wine Merchants