NWWA – Meet the Judges: Stu Marfell

Stu was born and raised in the Awatere Valley not far from the Vavasour Vineyard. A graduate of Lincoln University, Canterbury with a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology, Stu joined Foley Family Wines in February 2003 as Assistant Winemaker. Stu became our Chief Winemaker in 2007 and was a Finalist at the 2008 & 2009 Young Winemaker of the Year Awards.

How old were you when you had your first wine ‘moment’?

“Our family farm was just down the road from the Vavasour winery and I was there for the first harvest in 1989 as a 9-year-old with my mother and brother who were helping out in the vineyard.  I remember picking the fruit (and eating it!) and really enjoyed the team work, 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.  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!”

What does your own wine cellar look like and what is your most recent addition?

“I have no idea how many bottles are in there! It’s a bit disorganised and I lost a whole lot during the Kaikoura earthquakes, but I do seem to surprise myself every time I go in there with something good!

In the last 12 months, which grape have you drunk the most of?

“Chardonnay.  With so many styles it’s so versatile and its usually my go to.  Richer styles for the winter and tighter leaner styles for warmer weather.  There is a lot to like!”

In the last 12 months, what’s the most exciting region you’ve discovered or re-discovered?

“Well I’m a bit biased living in Marlborough but I have been really loving some of the Pinot Noir from here this winter.  There are some really amazing vineyards that were planted in Marlborough a few years back so now the vines are maturing it’s starting to give our wines a lot more depth and character.  We also have a bunch of Marlborough winemakers who are really trying a few new and interesting techniques which is great to taste.”

What has been your most memorable wine and food moment?

“For my 40th this year my wife organised a surprise birthday dinner with a few really special friends and she got one of New Zealand’s best chiefs who is also a friend to come and make an amazing dinner for us.  I had no idea what she was planning.  It was pretty exciting to dig into the cellar and open some of those wines you keep for that really special occasion to share with everyone.”

Wine styles continue to fluctuate. Where do you think the wine-style pendulum is swinging?

“I think that people appreciate flavour, so they are looking to more interesting layered wines not just fruity and one dimensional.  Even with wines like Sauvignon Blanc, it’s not enough now to have a wine that is attractive on the nose, it really needs to deliver on the palate as well with some texture and layers.”

What do you enjoy most about judging at the NWWA?

“I really enjoy the time spent with the other judges and the chance to taste through so many wines.  It gives me inspiration for my own winemaking and lets me really appreciate a wide range of wine styles from a lot of different regions.”