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Pioneering vineyard placed on the market for sale

Pioneering vineyard placed on the market for sale

The first sheep farm/vineyard conversion property in the Marlborough district of Ward, continuously owned by the same family for six generations, has been placed on the market for sale.

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, South-East 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 production 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

• 3 hectares of Pinot Gris – supplying Mahi Wines and

• Approximately 8 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 currently 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 Francis Estate Vineyard has resource consent to draw water from the Flaxbourne River which runs adjacent to the property. The vineyard also has a 90,000 cubic meter dam on site which was built in 2004 as a back up to the steam 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.

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