Pioneering Marlborough vineyard for sale

5:00 AM Saturday October 15, 2016 True Commercial

Potential exists to expand vine plantings at the Francis Estate by an additional 37 hectares.

A pioneering vineyard that led the conversion from sheep farming to grape growing in its region has been placed on the market for sale, ending six generations of family ownership.

Francis Estate Vineyard at Ward, southeast Marlborough, was established as a sheep and beef breeding farm by Frederick William (Billy) Francis and his wife Agnus Elizabeth Francis in 1905.

The farm remained a meat and wool-focused operation until the late 1980s when the removal of farm subsidies affected the profitability of the sector nationwide.

Seeking better yields from the land, the great-great-grandchildren of founder Frederick Francis planted grapes, while part of the farm was retained for grazing and cropping purposes.

At that time, Francis Estate Vineyard was the first farm of its type to convert from pastoral farming to harvesting pinot noir and sauvignon blanc grapes.

Several neighbouring properties in the Flaxbourne province subsequently followed suit — expanding the Marlborough wine production empire to the south.

Leading Kiwi winemaker Nobilo’s was instrumental in Francis Estate Vineyard’s successful conversion to grape-growing, providing knowledge and advice from its key viticulture personnel.

Pinot noir was the first variety planted in the vineyard and the subsequent pressing was sold under Nobilo’s “Founder’s Reserve” label, with sauvignon blanc added five years later as the style’s popularity took on global proportions.

The Francis Vineyard is now planted in three varietals, each with separate grape supply contracts to major winery labels:

• Seven hectares of pinot noir — supplying Endeavour Wines, Mahi Wines and Rapaura Springs

• Three hectares of pinot gris — supplying Mahi Wines and

• About eight hectares of sauvignon blanc — suppling Mahi Wines and Constellation Wines (formerly Nobilo’s).

However, after 111 years of family ownership, Francis Estate Vineyard has been placed on the market for sale by tender through Bayleys Marlborough, with tenders closing on November 3.

Bayleys Marlborough salesperson Andy Poswillo said the 87 hectare property had considerable production upside with only 18 hectares of the flat to easy rolling land now planted in vines.

“However, there is considerable potential to expand vine plantings by an additional 37 hectares of flat gradient land to nearly triple output and deliver substantially greater tonnage.

“This increased harvest could either complement the existing supply contracts, or add other wine labels to the business particularly if the crop was sauvignon blanc, which the Marlborough region is now world-famous for.

“The remainder of the land within the parcel consists of gullies and river-bed terraces, so is more suited to continue in its current grazing format.”

The vineyard has resource consent to draw water from the Flaxbourne River which runs adjacent to the property, and has a 90,000 cubic metre dam on site, built in 2004 as a back-up to the stream supply. The vines, planted in a north-to-south direction to maximize sun exposure, are irrigated by an automated dripline system.

Five frost fans are strategically positioned among the vines.

Francis Estate Vineyard has current accreditation from Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand for its pruning and vine management.

The property comes with a five bay partly-enclosed implement shed for the storage of pruning and vine management equipment and machinery.