Small business: Exporting - Brent Marris

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Brent Marris, Chief Winemaker and Proprietor, and his wife Rosemary own Marisco Vineyards a single vineyard site on 268 ha in Marlborough on the banks of the Waihopai River where they make The King's Series and The Ned wines

Brent Marris of Marisco Vineyards.
Brent Marris of Marisco Vineyards.

The company exports 80 per cent of its wine and its biggest markets are the UK and Australia. Marris and his father sold Wither Hills in 2002 to Lion Nathan.

After Wither Hills, you began a whole new wine business, Marisco Vineyards at a single vineyard site and built a story around the wines you produced for your local and international audience. How did you do that?

The King's Series came about after we commissioned a genealogist to look into our descendents and we found that the family was a descendent of King Henry 1 who had 35 illegitimate children. We built a whole wine brand around this, for instance King's Wrath pinot noir near the base of The Ned, the Kings Favour, the King's Bastard and the King's Thorn.

We also have a story around The Ned range. The Ned is a mountain in the Wither Hills of Marlborough and something I always looked at from Mum and Dad's house. It is the "summit of Marlborough", the highest peak. We have a 20 acre vineyard for The Ned pinot noir. The Ned name reminds me of horse riding and motorbike riding in the hills when I was young.

It's about making wines that make you feel young at heart, reminding you of blue sky, green grass, cold water - purity and seamlessness.

The wine we have created for this brand is for drinking every day. You always have a bottle in the fridge on the go and have a glass before the activities of the evening.

What percentage of your business is export and where are your biggest markets?

The UK and Australia are our biggest markets but we are making inroads in the States and have an office in San Francisco. We began exporting to the United States in January 2012 and have three employees there selling to distributors across 21 states.

How do you tell your story to customers?

Our customers are retailers and wholesalers. I am going to the States in a couple of weeks to keep getting our story out there. Why choose to buy my wine versus the next person's wine, that's what you have to explain. We talk about not only being great value for money but we have the story which has a lot of customer appeal. O

ur wine is becoming more popular, we want to end up being a household name. It does come down to having my customers look at our proposition and history. We own our own vineyards, and we have been in the trade for years. I step in to educate the person on the floor who is selling to consumers. I travel regularly to help educate the sales people. I will be going to Texas and Chicago creating new ambassadors for the Marisco stable of wines. I have been doing this in England for many years and can attract 60 to 70 shop managers to any one tasting.

Do you bring customers to New Zealand?

We recently flew 10 wine buyers out from the States, took them to our beachhouse on Waiheke, and then on to Marlborough to the Marisco vineyards and winery.

We made them take their shoes off and walk in the river and walk up through the vineyard to the winery. Showing them why we love the area is what makes the experience special. When we bought the vineyard we wanted something with the x-factor. Marisco Vineyards is on the banks of the Waihopai, it has three terraces and is now a beautiful winery.

What did you learn from your Wither Hills experience?

Success comes from making wine and creating brands that people love. We have just purchased another single vineyard site, Leefield Station and want to roll out the same experience and story for a whole new property. Compared to a lot of other grape growing regions we are still very young.

Thanks to our experience with Wither Hills, we know our buyers very well in all our markets and they are used to our wine style.

The other big lesson from Wither Hills was the whole wine making process. It's all about good flow in the winery, and quality grape growing and wine making right through to bottling.

What other export markets do you have your eye on?

Our emerging markets are the US and China. Then Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland and India is another one.

How do you read the Fonterra situation?

I think Theo Spierings is very wise to base himself in China during the situation. I have been to China seven or eight times for business over the last two years. It's all about understanding the culture. I have taken my daughters with me on a couple of occasions.

This has been important for the Chinese to see my full life, taking my family to meet their family.


Next week, we are taking a look at the changing workplace health and safety landscape in corporate New Zealand triggered by the Pike River tragedy. With a new Crown agency, Worksafe NZ, being set up to regulate workplace health and safety by the end of 2013, and much more stringent enforcement measures including heavy fines and corporate manslaughter, it's time all businesses checke that their house is in order.

- NZ Herald

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