New Zealand Biodynamic Wine – Churton, Marlborough

Monty Waldin writes “New Zealand finds making wines with strong flavours so easy – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Otago Pinot Noir being notable examples – that producers focussing on bringing definition to their wine more by texture than by great blasts of fruit often slip under the radar.The Countryman Jul15

I believe Sam and Mandy Weaver’s Churton estate, in Marlborough’s Waihopai valley, to be one of a handful of New Zealand vineyards with a unique terroir and a way of working it which makes the terroir come strikingly alive in the glass.”

For the full article visit Chateau Monty

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Max Allen’s visit to Churton

TNewletter May 2011he last time I visited Marlborough, in 2009, the region had experienced two large vintages in a row and winemakers were nervous. Grape prices were falling; unsold wine was mounting up in tanks and warehouses. It felt like New Zealand was in danger of heading down the same path towards oversupply and brand devaluation as Australia had a few short years before. Turns out it was only a hiccup.

I went back to Marlborough last month and was surprised to find the wine business there still expanding – albeit at a far less frantic pace than the early 2000s. Clearly, the world is still thirsty for the region’s trademark varietal wine. I was in Marlborough primarily for a three-day Organic and Biodynamic Winegrowing Conference, but I also spent some time visiting these mould-breakers.

Some strong themes emerged from my visits: the quality of the Pinot Noirs in the region is better than ever; organic and biodynamic viticulture is being adopted on a large scale; and there is a small but steady move towards greater viticultural diversity in the region – indeed some of the best wines I tasted in Marlborough last month were produced from grapes other than Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir.

All three themes come together at Churton, Sam and Mandy Weaver’s 22-hectare (54-acre) vineyard (pictured above right) draped across a hill in the region’s southern valleys. Biodynamically farmed (Sam Weaver was particularly keen for me to meet his small herd of Red Devon cattle happily winter grazing in one of the Sauvignon Blanc blocks) and low yielding (less than 4 tonnes per hectare (c 28 hl/ha) for the top wines), this hillside site produces Sauvignon with exceptional concentration and weight and Pinot Noir with more depth and structure than many others I tasted – as well as gloriously perfumed Viognier and tiny quantities of intense, sweet Petit Manseng.

As impressive as the vineyard is and as good as the wines are, though, the Weavers have reluctantly put the property on the market, ideally hoping to find a buyer who will sell the fruit back to them to allow them to continue producing Churton wines. Part of the reason for this decision is the financially devastating loss of 50% of their crop to hail in 2014 (the picture below is of their harvest); but it’s also a stark illustration that doing things the hard way – planting anything other than Sauvignon, on a hill rather than the flats, chasing low yields, etc – in a region so utterly dominated by broad-acre viticulture and a homogeneity of wine style can wear you down.

As Mandy Weaver told me: ‘It requires strenuous effort to get to our markets and constantly remind people there is another side to Marlborough. It’s just not easy being the ones who break the mould” 

Courtesy of  Max Allen, Jancis Robinson Purple pages 1st August 2015

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An interview with visiting Sommeliers – Part 2 – Iaro Kazachenko

Interview with Iaro Kazachenko, Sommelier for Salt Grill Singapore and visitor to Churton



Where are you from?

I’m originally from Ukraine but live in Singapore and work as a Sommelier at Salt Grill and Sky Bar in ION Orchard.


Can you tell us about your Family?

Elder brother, Mum and Dad are all still living in Ukraine.


What made you choose wine as your passion?

I have worked in F&B for a long time, since University when I worked part time.  It is something very interesting in the F&B industry for me to learn because if you have some plans to open your own place or you want to move into management then you need to know all the aspects of the work like starting from the dishwash to the front of house, like reception, working as a Sommelier, as a waiter and so on and so on.


It is your ambition to open your own place?

Yes, for now I have an idea, working in F&B to maybe one day I’ll try to open something. Mine. Like a kind of not really big place, with nice food but make it very simple with fresh food, good wine, good selection of drinks and beers, so something that makes a place not really big but cosy. Simplicity but quality.


How did you become a sommelier?

I was just keeping working and when I joined Salt Grill I got an offer from the head Sommelier Fazil Mohamed, he said “I see that you are interested in wine” (because I was always asking him a lot of questions about wine, how it is made and so on) and he said “I need a person to work in the wine department with me would you like to join me” so I joined and he is teaching me what he knows and he got the title for the Best Sommelier in Singapore in 2014 so he is a quite a good person to work with and learn from.


What is your Sommelier qualification?

For now I am just planning to study in the future and learning as much as I can from our head Sommelier, as he is a member of the Sommelier’s Association. Sometimes it is not necessary to have the qualification if you have a lot of experience working on the floor with the wines, and it means that you can even join the competitions without the certification. Like for example if you want to enter a competition you must have certificate of Sommelier or you must have at least two years experience of work. Which means it allows you to join the Master Court of Sommeliers.


How long have you been a Sommelier?

For quite a long time already, like one year. Working with the wines, working in F&B for much longer but at Salt Grill I really get involved in everything, from making the wine list, arranging everything and so on and so on. Behind the work of Sommelier  – a lot of people see the person only serve the wine on the floor, but behind this – there is a lot of other things because you need to keep your cellar in a good order, you need to arrange everything properly so it makes your life and the life of the staff easier, because you are not the only person in the place who is selling the wines.


Where/when/how did you first discover Churton?

Sam was visiting Singapore and they had a tasting at Salt Tapas and after this Churton appeared on our wine list as a house pour. Churton was and still is our house pour Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. We are serving quite a lot by the glass. We have quite a large wine list and a range of prices and the Churton wines are really very good and for that price what we have and the quality is much higher.


What was your impression of Churton before your visit?

Very good wines, they don’t look like all the other wines from Marlborough. They are slightly different and now I understand why, everything is made in a very traditional and classical way and it’s biodynamic, they don’t use any chemicals and all the other wineries they grow their wines on the flat and the quality of the fruit is totally different from the flat than from these hills. So the wines perform much better than even the famous names from Marlborough like Cloudy Bay, Oyster Bay and some other wines.


How did you come to be at Churton for harvest?

Because Salt is part of an incentive program and we are buying quite a big amount of Churton wine, Berry Bros & Rudd (Churton’s distributor in Singapore) with whom we are working with said that “We would love to send one of you to visit the Churton winery”.


Is there anything about Churton vineyard that has surprised you?

I am really surprised how it is made, because I was thinking that it would be more industrial and more commercial but when I came here it is like, more like not a business but a family farm. You know, all the family working on it. They have the vineyard & they have the house on their land and everything is quite close on their land and Mandy has the office, just at the house and she is coming back to work in the vineyard. It is surprising that nowadays when wine becomes more industrial such a kind of winery is still able to survive and this makes them unique. It’s something that makes them very different to all these big companies.


Favourite Churton Wine?

Yesterday we tried the Petit Manseng and I really liked it. I hadn’t tried it before because we have only Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc on our list but this Petit Manseng is really great! It’s something that you wouldn’t expect from this wine the level of sugar of 83 grams per litre but when you are drinking it you don’t feel this and the wine is Great!


What dish would you pair with it?

It might be quite good with Foie Gras because it is quite sweet and the classical pairing with the Foie Gras is with Sauternes.  It might also work quite well and nice with some Asian food, something like for example Sashimi, but with some spicy dressing for example we have such a dish at Salt; Sashimi with spicy dressing its with red and green chili, with palm sugar, with lime so this dish is not too spicy, its just lightly spicy but it might work well with the Petit Manseng. Something that is not going to overpower this flavour, so it will be nicely balanced by the concentration of acid and sugar in the wine and the slight spiciness in the food. So with Asian food it might be quite good.


Where would you be enjoying this dish and with who?

With my girlfriend in Singapore.




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An interview with visiting Sommeliers – Part 1 – Frankie Villar

An interview with Frankie Villar, US Sommelier & visitor to Churton


Where are you from?

I grew up in Kansas but have lived in Chicago for the last 10 years.


Can you tell us about your family?

I grew up in the hospitality industry, my family owned restaurants and catering companies so since I was like 10 years old I’ve been passengering, but worked closely with grandmother and my dad in the restaurant as an after school job since I was around 16. Then when I was older I started working in a more corporate atmosphere in hotels etc. But yes, hospitality is what my family does.


What made you choose wine as your passion?

When I moved to Chicago I got into hotels and started working in restaurants and felt like I kind of peaked as far as serving went, so wine was like a real challenge, something that really stimulated me and was difficult – and I’ve always kind of done hard things. I enjoy a challenge, so it just really led to a passion. Learning.


How did you become a Sommelier?

It was when I started working at GT Fish and Oyster in Chicago, which was when I was introduced to Churton as well. GT is a Boka company which really has a wine focus across the whole company.  Pretty much everybody that works for the company is really passionate about food and wine and it just kind of reignited something for me. So I took my introductory level within the first 6 months that I was working there then a year and a half later I wanted to do the certified and so I tested for it and I passed and it was really fantastic.


What is your Sommelier qualification?

I gained a Level 2 certified Sommelier through the Court of Sommeliers about 2 ½ years ago.


Current/Most Recent Sommelier Position?

After GT I decided to give fine dining a try and was lucky enough to find a position as Spiaggia where I was a captain and at the time, before they did their renovation for their 30th birthday celebration, the captains had to know a lot about wine, because there wasn’t a sommelier on the floor. So I had to help guide the guests through a really intense, large, Italian Wine format book. So that led me to go deeper into learning about Italian wine.


Where/When/how did you first discover Churton?

Roughly about 3-4 years ago when I started working at GT. It was our glass pour for Sauvignon Blanc and Dan Hodges from H2Vino introduced it to us.  Although we had other Sauvignon Blanc’s including a Sancerre, the Churton was what everyone gravitated towards. As a result I started to become interested in learning a little bit more about Biodynamics and Organic Wine.


Impression of Churton before your visit?

I thought it would be a small, specialist, family run farm so was not at all surprised and Churton was just as I expected.


How did you come to be at Churton for harvest?

I had planned on doing it for a while now, I saw an opportunity to obtain a working holiday visa and I though Churton would be the perfect place to put that to use.  So its nice and cold in Chicago at the moment and I wanted to get out of there  – Dan Hodges from H2Vino was able to set up some lines of communication with Mandy and Sam and I just kind of jumped on a plane and came out here.


Only a few days into harvest but I’d like to ask you what your impression is so far?

Its fantastic. It’s exactly what I wanted to get out of the experience. It’s hard work, it’s beautiful and it has just really been wonderful.


What experiences have you had in the last few days that really stand out for you?

I think it is really surprising how many bunches of grapes are picked.  Yes, I had thought grape picking – a few baskets to collect – but,  when you see how may grapes and baskets are loaded for the winery at each pick it is quite astounding. 


Is there anything about Churton vineyard that has surprised you?

I was hoping that it would be and it is not really a surprise but everyone is just so nice! And warm and I was hoping that it would be a good introduction and it was, I mean it’s almost like a family, Well it is a family! Literally but they have just been so open to me and adopted me and made me feel very welcome.


Favourite Churton Wine?

So I was able to taste through the wines last week and when I tasted the Best End Sauvignon Blanc I was just blown away. In the past I’ve tasted Didier Dagenau wines, the Silex and his other lines but this knocked it out of the water. It was fantastic, I was so incredibly impressed.


What dish would you pair with it?

Oh, man, what would I do that with.. I think maybe with a heartier seafood dish, I’m thinking back to at GT we had a really delicious clam bake with mussels and Italian sausage and corn and there was just lots of different layers of flavour – that that wine just cries out for.


Where would you be enjoying it and who?

Friends and family, or I could just enjoy it alone in front of a bonfire on a fall day. 


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Churton Winter Newsletter 2014

2014 Winter Solstice Newsletter – June 2014



It’s a truism to say that wine makers never experience the same vintage conditions twice. After the 2014 vintage we have to say thank goodness for that!

Looking for the last Churton Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Clod Pinot Noir 20142014 started off brilliantly. A very mild spring led to early flowering and consequently good fruit set. The rest of the season was almost perfect…except, of course, for the massive hailstorm we had on the 3rd of March. After all the hard work we had put in and the great potential of the vintage this was quite devastating.  Fortunately the weather returned to normal after the hail event and the dry days combined with our hard working bees cleaned up most of the damaged bunches. The result was that we picked some excellent fruit, albeit in reduced quantities. We have a small but exceedingly good-looking harvest of Sauvignon Blanc, some lovely Viognier and some very good Pinot Noir. Throughout everything we have had to be very selective. The Abyss Pinot Noir block as usual shows depth, finesse and elegance. Sadly the Petit Manseng did not survive the hail damage. Yet again most of the vineyard has proved resilient to adverse farming conditions. In our mind this is in no small part due to our biodynamic philosophy. The overall health and aura of the vineyard has prevailed!



Winter Solstice is traditionally a time to celebrate and reconnect with friends, family and nature. Here at Churton we embrace this philosophy and choose Winter Solstice to release our new vintage wines. We are pleased to present Churton Sauvignon Blanc 2013Viognier 2013Petit Manseng 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012



Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Chicago

2014-05-29 18.44.01The best, most positive market visit I’ve had in 5 years. Fantastic! What is so pleasing is that people are really understanding the quality and style difference that Churton presents.  

The theme of my tour was to discuss how biodynamics really underlines the Churton terroir and hence the individuality and style of the wines.

Perhaps the one key highlight was a tutored tasting that I gave at the cellars of Berry Brothers and Rudd in St James’s in London. Berry’s is one of the oldest wine merchants in the world and are still highly respected and a leader not just in London but Asia too (We sell through BBR in London, Singapore and Japan).  Jasper Morris MW kindly hosted the evening with me. It was great to have the guiding hand of Jasper during the tasting. Not only have we known each other for a long time, (he could keep me from wandering into too many tangential discussions) but also he has witnessed the establishment and evolution of Churton in New Zealand.  It was a great evening. The wines showed really well and we discussed biodynamics “from bottom to top” including soil microbiology through macro-biology to cosmic and spiritual biology! Something pretty cool that I learnt was that the English philosopher John Locke had described how peasants in the South of France buried cows horns with cow dung in them and then used the contents to enhance their soil.  It just goes to reinforce that much of what Rudolph Steiner suggested in his agriculture lectures in 1924 was based on describing peasant agriculture from earlier times.

I was shown great hospitality and enthusiasm for Churton wherever I went. A very rewarding experience after the travails of a difficult vintage when at times we really wondered what we had done to deserve such a tough year.


Introducing Guillaume Harel  – Churton Market Manager UK/Europeguillaume photo

Guillaume Harel has over 20 years experience in the food and wine trade.

Originally from France, Guillaume spent over 10 years working in London’s finest hotels in food and beverage before he was headhunted to Hong Kong in 2007.

During his time in Hong Kong he quickly rose to the position of General Sales Manager for Altaya Wines, one of the most renowned agency’s in Asia and the distributor for Churton in Hong Kong. 

Guillaume relocated his family back to London at the end of 2013 where he started his own business in wine.  

Guillaume is passionate about bio-dynamicity and has an expert knowledge of wine and sales. Guillaume now represents Churton in the UK where he manages sales and brand development. 

Guillaume can be contacted on email at moc.liamgnull@1lerahiug.



Churton-vineyardWith the winter crop of oats now in and replenishing the soil, the vineyard awaits pruning. This year we have another culturally diverse crew of pruners ready to go. So far we have an Australian a Chilean an Italian and an Israeli, plus Ben and Laura the token Kiwis. It’s always great bringing in people from differing nationalities and makes for some fascinating lunch time discussions. 

The annual Churton compost collection has begun, with Ben and friend Arthur making the most of a quiet time in the vineyard. They have been thinning out some trees along the boundary. These trees (ngaios) will be chipped into small pieces and used as carbon matter for the compost. At night we have been isolating the cattle in the yards with a bed of hay. The idea being that we get a nicely concentrated area of pooey hay, great for the compost. The last thing we now need is a trip to the beach for seaweed collection. This involves hard work, luck from the weather and expert timing to avoid getting stuck by the incoming tide.

The vineyard is looking good and we are sure this year’s compost will be another cracker.


With warm regards as our days get longer; Sam, Mandy, Julie and the Churton team

 Churton Newsletter Winter Solstice 2014





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Churton Market Update

London – Churton is delighted to welcome Guillaume Harel to the Churton team!  He will be introducing Churton to the London trade.  Guillaume is an expert on Churton having sold Churton in Hong Kong before he returned to England.  To order Churton contact Guillaume on +44 7796 713498 or moc.liamgnull@1lerahiug. Watch this space for more news from the UK.

Hong Kong – For all our customers in Hong Kong, the Churton Pinot Noir is now being poured at the bar at the Grand Hyatt as well as being on the banquet list.  Also, look out for the Churton Sauvignon Blanc by the glass at the Tapas Bar at the Kowloon Shangri La. 

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A sad note – farewell to our friend Pip

Pip amongst the interrows Peas Pip watching sunsetMany of you will have enjoyed meeting our lovely dog Pip and watching her run in the vineyard. Yesterday, our faithful friend with the velvet ears floated into a well earned rest whilst lying in the sun.   Here is a photo of Pip watching the sun go down and also one of her in the inter-row vegetation.  Happy memories live on (as well as her mad companion Coco).

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Churton Harvest 2014

Sunrise over Abyss - ready for pickingOn the morning of Friday 21st of March (Autumn Solstice) with the moon and the sun in the sky we started handpicking lovely bunches of Pinot Noir at optimum ripeness from our Clod block. On Saturday we moved onto Bowl block and last Monday we started on the Abyss. Coco welcomes Churton Vintage 2014

As the harvest continues the weather gods are smiling on us and our little bee helpers did an amazing job cleaning up the hail damage. We’ve been really lucky after what could have been a disastrous event –  the hand harvested fruit coming into the winery looks clean and tastes delicious!

We’ve now finished harvesting all the Pinot Noir (Abyss, Bowl and Clod) and with early morning starts continuing, are now working 

Sam & Maisie Clod 14

our way through hand harvesting the Sauvignon Blanc.

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How Churton uses nature to combat the effects of hail

Hail in vineyardLast week Churton was at the mercy of the weather and suffered considerable damage to the vines following a localized hail storm.  Some blocks came through better than others.  We are now working alongside nature to give as much care and attention to the vines as we can. 


Bee in vineyard

Our vineyard based housekeepers are hard at work – The vineyard bees are working to clean up the broken berries to minimize potential infection sites.  Kevin has boosted the number of hives we have so it is all hands on deck.

We have been brewing biodynamic teas (Nettle and Equisetum) to apply to the vines in conjunction with seaweed.  Equisetum (horse tails) with its high silica content warms the plant but also acts as an anti-fungal application.  The nettle tea has a warming effect as well as encouraging the vine to build back as much potassium as possible into the leaf area.


We wish to let you all know, that Churton will be producing a 2014 vintage of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Viognier from the vineyard – the production may be limited, but rest assured the fruit that we do pick will be up to our usual standard – Sam won’t let anything less than great go into a Churton bottle of wine.


We would like to thank a number of Marlborough wineries and viticulturalists – you know who you are – who have offered their moral support as well fruit availability if required.  It is great to be part of a wider team that shares the load. 


So now it is time to wish everyone the very best for Vintage 2014!


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Our Petit Manseng creates quite a buzz

Our latest release wine, Churton Petit Manseng “The little man that sang”, has been creating quite a buzz around the world.

New Zealand’s first commercial release of this variety, it has been featured in WineNZ Magazine, The New Zealand Listener, DRINKSBIZ, NZ Herald and also World of Fine Wine Magazine where Andrew Jefford described our Petit Manseng as “the most exciting bottle of new white wine” he was lucky enough to drink during 2013.

We have now sold out at the winery but the good news is that there will be a 2013 vintage of this wine (release date to be announced). For retail and on-premise stockists of the Petit Manseng do contact us at zn.oc.seniw-notruhcnull@ofni

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