Shropshire-born Sam Weaver swapped the long-established London wine trade for the nascent grape-growing region of Marlborough, New Zealand in 1988. More than 30 years later, his two sons – Ben and Jack – are taking over the reins of the family‘s biodynamically-farmed Churton estate, which has recently become the country’s first traditionally ploughed vineyard.
‘I was born and brought up in a rural farming family in Shropshire and always felt more comfortable in the rural and practical realm of winemaking than working in the highfalutin’ London wine trade. We first went to New Zealand to visit the Kiwi side of my family – of which there were many – and we’ve added to the numbers. I do miss Britain’s proper ale and pork pies though!
‘We’ve just become the first New Zealand estate to plough its vineyard by horse and plough. At first we didn’t know if it would be possible, so we acquired an old single-furrow horse-drawn plough from the local agricultural museum. Having proved it worked by dragging it behind a baby Kubota tractor, we replaced the tractor with two Clydesdales: Xena and Gordon.
‘We’re on a mission to reduce our carbon footprint through reducing the use of tractors. By reducing soil compaction, improving water retention and biological activity in the soil we will make better wine as a result.’
‘Most Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is ubiquitous with its overtly fruity, herbaceous style. They are usually very technically made wines, meaning there has been a lot of intervention. What’s more, they’re often regional blends. At Churton, we produce wines from a single terroir, respecting Sauvignon Blanc through cropping at low yields, before fermenting the wines naturally with indigenous yeasts. The fruit quality is so good that we can successfully make very low-intervention wines of depth, character and restraint.
‘Other than Marlborough my other favourite wine regions are Burgundy and Jurançon. But if I had to choose it would be Jurançon. It is such a beautiful area in the foothills of the Pyrenees. They have such a strong attachment to their land, their culture and their terroir.
‘Speaking of Jurançon, it’s a little-known fact that we are New Zealand’s first and biggest producer of Petit Manseng. In 2007, when we were expanding the vineyard, the nursery let us down with some Pinot Noir and asked if there was any way they could make amends for the mistake. Their first importation of Petit Manseng vines had just been released from quarantine and knowing and loving the variety through my connection with the late Didier Dagueneau [Les Jardins de Babylon], I took every single plant they had.
‘We’re handing over the reins of the business to our sons, Ben and Jack. Having grown up on the farm, they are both passionate about our place, making wine here and have the energy to work hard at it. Importantly they have a connection with the new generation of wine drinkers who appreciate low-intervention wine such as their Natural State range.
‘I’m most proud of breaking the conventional model of winemaking in New Zealand. Designing and planting Churton’s 23ha vineyard on a hillside is a model of what can be done with a farm ecosystem. We can make great wine that speaks of its place.’