Winemaker Stu Marfell on winning gold with the Sauvignon Blanc vines he planted as a teen

. January 14, 2021
Winemaker Stu Marfell on winning gold with the Sauvignon Blanc vines he planted as a teen

Stu Marfell, winemaker of Dashwood Wines, grew up down the road from the Vavasour winery. Now, he's using the fruit from some of the Sauvignon vines he planted during his school holidays as a teenager to make the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc that picked up a Gold award at the Marlborough Wine Show 2020. We spoke to Stu about how best to enjoy the award-winning drop, and his life in wine.  

This article was created in partnership with Foley Wine Club

Vibrant, complex and perfectly balanced, Dashwood wines are crafted by highly awarded Vavasour Chief Winemaker Stu Marfell, Winemaker of the Show at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2018.

Taking inspiration from the native Pohutukawa that flowers in summertime along our coastlines, Dashwood wines embody the care and respect they have for our precious environment.

Dashwood wines are crafted in small parcels at the Vavasour Winery in the Awatere Valley. The team are taking practical and tangible steps to safeguard our environment for future generations with solar panels on the winery to reduce the use of energy from the main grid. The wines are bottle in New Zealand-sourced recycled glass and the labels are made from sugarcane – a renewable material that utilises an abundant by-product.

It's fitting then, that Stu himself is locally sourced, having grown up just down the road from the Vavasour Winery. The punchy, citrusy Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc is made from the fruit of vines he planted when he was a teenager, so it's little wonder he was especially proud when it won Gold award at the Marlborough Wine Show. We talked to Stu about what makes the wine worth dedicating a lifetime to, and how best to enjoy it.

dish: What made you want to become a winemaker?
I grew up in the Awatere Valley just down the road from the Vavasour winery I helped out at the first harvest as a 9-year-old in 1989 and I remember picking the fruit (and eating it!) and really enjoyed the teamwork, the sunshine and this exciting new industry for the area. I was pretty hooked after that and started to work in the vineyards not long afterwards to gain experience. 

How did you go about becoming a winemaker?
My teenage school holidays were spent working in the Vavasour vineyards, gaining skills and experience. I graduated from Lincoln University in 2002 with a bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology and immediately started as Vavasour’s assistant winemaker and became the Chief winemaker of Vavasour and Dashwood in 2007. From there I have had many amazing experiences in the wine industry, from tasting the 2005 Mouton Rothchild from barrel to hanging out in a cave with a Spanish family in Rioja tasting their home brew which they were so proud of. It’s an amazing industry to work in!

Stu and Sandy in the vineyard

We hear that this Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc has picked up a few awards?
It sure has! Dashwood has a long history of winning some amazing awards, and I think that is largely because of the efforts of our amazing team and how much we love the wines. Most recently we were thrilled to pick up a Gold award at the Marlborough Wine Show which was pretty special. Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc 2020 also picked up Gold at The International New Zealand Wine Show last year. We create Dashwood to be delicious, amazing value for money and really attractive.  So even though it’s a really affordable price it’s still some of the best fruit from the Awatere and Wairau valleys. 

What makes Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc stand out?
Dashwood is crafted in small parcels at our Vavasour Winery in the Awatere Valley, but we use fruit from the Awatere and Wairau Valleys. The Wairau valley gives our Sauvignon Blanc those really classic aromas of passionfruit and citrus, whereas the Awatere has an amazing concentration and a briny, sea spray quality on the palate.  So, it’s really the best of both.  For me what makes a Sauvignon Blanc special is how it tastes on the palate.  The nose is important but if it has layers of flavour on the palate, with some salivating acidity and the saline character we get from the Awatere it’s hard to not go back for another sip and I think that is what really make Dashwood stand out.

What does it taste like?
Delicious! I get loads of passionfruit and citrus on the nose and a touch of elderflower.  The palate is amazing with loads of fruit but this nice briny minerality that comes through on the finish. 

What happens on the winemaking end to achieve that?
I spend a lot of my time during harvest out in the vineyards making sure we get our picking decision spot on. Sauvignon Blanc has a very short window of perfect ripeness, so harvesting at the right time makes a big difference.  We have a wide range of vineyard sites within the Wairau and Awatere valleys from close to the sea right up the valleys which gives us a wide range of different flavours we can blend from and it helps to keep a consistent style from year to year. 

What about Marlborough is it that creates great Sauvignon Blanc?
Marlborough is a special place for wine. There are a few things that make a difference but the biggest would be our warm climate and free-draining soils. We get lovely warm windy days and cool nights. During the warm windy days, the vines produce all those lovely flavours we want to make distinctive and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc and then the cool nights lock in the freshness and flavour.  

What’s your favourite thing to pair it with?
That zing that we get from our Sauvignon Blanc makes it perfect to pair with any delicious fresh seafood like grilled snapper with a fresh green salad or a clam linguine (my two favourites).

What is the perfect occasion to serve this wine for?
Dashwood embraces the natural beauty of the coastlines and unique flora and fauna that are synonymous with New Zealand. So, it is the perfect drop for a Kiwi Summer. I love enjoying Dashwood at the Bach with friends or any evening of the week, it’s always a winner.

See the Dashwood Wine Instagram here and Facebook here

Find Dashwood Wines at your local liquor store or from the Foley Wine Club.