Churton is a biodynamically farmed, certified organic vineyard situated in the southern hills of Marlborough. Producing hand-harvested Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir as well as small quantities of Viognier and Petit Manseng, Churton's core philosophy is New World wine tempered with Old World style.
The vineyard has been organic since the beginning in 1997. “Churton wanted to grow organically across the whole property – the vineyard, the pasture and the gardens.”
Their decision stems from Sam’s farming background and learning of organic viticulture when studying the MW way back in 1988, “our first meeting with our now good friend James Millton.” They used the biodynamic calendar when planting their vineyard, which "took us further down the biodynamic pathway – a great way to enjoy continued learnings.”
The site is quite unique in Marlborough, a region of long straight horizon lines and distant hills. The Churton vineyard occupies its own ridgeline, high above the valley floor with striking views to the surrounding valleys.
“Our vineyard is like a patchwork quilt covering a North-East facing ridgeline enjoying the bright but gentle morning sun. To respect the undulating nature of the site, we have planted across the hillside in 17 separate blocks – no rigid North-South lineage but rather each block’s aspect is determined by the natural contours of the land and tractor safety!”
These 17 blocks are personalised further by having names, not numbers. “By naming each block we further highlight the provenance of the fruit.” One block above a 50m cliff falling to the Omaka river has the striking name “The Abyss”. Along with physical features, some of the other blocks are named after meat cuts, “honouring the importance of our grazing animals.”
Although Mandy speaks of blocks, the Weavers regard the vineyard, beehives, pasture, gardens and their home on the surrounding property as one.
“We treat our whole property as a single living organism with all elements being intrinsically interconnected and working together. Each element helps others. We use our cattle to help graze the land and they contribute to our biodynamic preparation programme – the bees not only provide delicious honey but help reduce any disease within the fruit.
Having suffered a freak hailstorm in 2014, our bees immediately got to work on the damaged fruit and cleaned all the split berries thereby avoiding any sour rot. They are nature’s housekeepers in so many ways.”
Winemaker Sam Weaver produces wines to truly express their unique vineyard and look for a sense of place. “Provenance is so important when consuming any food or beverage. If we can give our wine drinker a glimpse of Churton though our wines that is the best way to share what we have. This means the fruit is the key, from the way we set up the vineyard to how we tend the vines through the growing season. We handpick all our fruit and gently care for it in the winery and through its journey to bottle.”
Mandy is involved in Organic Winegrowers NZ and is excited for the future of organic wines. “Undoubtedly demand is growing for organic and biodynamic wines – not just amongst sommeliers but amongst the wider public. People care about the environment, they care about insects, the wellbeing of the soil, they care about what they consume, and they care that those people who nurtured the vines are also safe from synthetic chemicals.”
“The future for organic wine is exciting – it will become the norm, not the exception. People will expect to see organic wines easily available in retail and widely listed in restaurants. Leave out organic wine at your peril!”Mandy Weaver
What is the vintage that stands out most to you?
2019 must be our favourite vintage – the best yet for Churton by way of reaching our targeted yields and fabulous quality across the vineyard. It was also the vintage Ben and Jack made a true field blend – they picked small quantities of Viognier / Pt Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc in the vineyard and processed the fruit together just like you would a beautiful fruit cake but in a more gentle manner – the result is an amazing wine shortly to be released under the Natural State label.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My father always told me, “never say no to an opportunity. Instead, say yes, I’d like to think about that thank you. Give yourself time for reflection”
What is your favourite thing about the wine industry?
I love and am very thankful that Churton is a family business and I love seeing Ben and Jack forging their way in the industry alongside other young energetic like-minded wine professionals. It’s exciting to see the new generations coming through – maybe one day I will see one of my granddaughters as Churton’s first female winemaker.