Caythorpe Hay and Wine

April 2022

A super-premium, 100 percent family estate-grown wine brand.

In 2015, multi-generational Caythorpe Family Estate near Blenheim, owned by the Bishell family, launched as a super-premium, 100 percent estate-grown wine brand. 


Today Caythorpe, led by fifth-generation descendants, Scott and Simon Bishell, consists of 130ha of vineyard, 60ha of mixed cropping, a cherry orchard and a packhouse. Caythorpe recently expanded its cherry production to include a new trellis system called UFO. In addition to all these production strands, Scott has built a niche specialist equine hay business.


David Bishell emigrated to New Zealand in 1876 with his wife, Mary and four young children in search of a better life.  In 1880, he bought 50ha of farmland west of Blenheim and named it “Caythorpe” after his home village in Lincolnshire, England. The land was unproductive and covered in flax, but David saw the potential and set about clearing the property to allow him to grow food crops. 


Over the course of 50 years, the property grew to 190ha and saw many farming firsts and successes.  David was the first farmer in New Zealand to grow red clover for seed in 1892. In the late 1890s, he purchased Lincoln and Romney ewes, which would later establish Caythorpe as an internationally renowned sheep stud. 


During the 1920s, David exported Lincoln ewes to both South Africa and South America. For three consecutive years he was awarded the title of “Best Worked Farm in Province” by the Marlborough A&P Association. In 1958, one of the exported Lincoln rams bred by David’s son, Wally was named Champion Ram at the Royal English Show. 


In 1972, David’s grandson, Mervyn Bishell was approached by out-of-town businessmen with an offer to buy Caythorpe – he declined. The businessmen purchased the neighbouring property and it became one of the first parcels of land in Marlborough to be planted in vines by Montana (now Brancott Estate).


In the 1970s, David’s great grandson, Murray was one of the first in the district to use irrigation on process vegetable crops.  In continuing the family tradition of innovation and alert to opportunities, he also bought the first Axial-Flow combine to Marlborough, which allowed a greater range of seed crops to be grown at Caythorpe.  


The brutal economic climate of the 1980s proved the catalyst for diversification into horticulture and wine growing. Cherries were planted in 1986 and the family’s first vineyards of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were established by Murray and his late wife Diana in 1987. 


In 1988, the New Zealand Ploughing Championships were hosted by Murray and Diana at Caythorpe.  Murray achieved the rare feat of competing in a national championship held on his own property.


After establishing eight hectares of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc vines at Caythorpe in 1987, between 1996 and 2006 the the Bishells increased their vineyard area to also include Chardonnay and Riesling.


In 2008, Simon won the NZ Young Viticulturist of the Year and in 2015 the business launched its first vintage of Caythorpe Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc. Two years later, the Caythorpe Family Estate 2016 Sauvignon Blanc won Gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Simon is in charge of the wine, as well as the cherries.


The Bishells say lucerne and meadow have been Caythorpe’s bread and butter for generations, long before wine and cherries became part of the mix. The family are now suppliers of high-quality equine hay (incorporating a specialist mix of pasture species), to various markets, including a number of stud and breeding enterprises throughout the South Island. 


Scott Bishell runs this part of the family business and chooses the combination of pasture species in conjunction with vets and agronomists in Marlborough. It includes prairie grass, timothy, fescue, grazing brome, strawberry, persian and red clovers, chicory, plantain, sheeps burnet, and lucerne, all in the mix. Scott describes the end product as, “the entrée, the meat, three veges and dessert, all in one”. 


Scott has imported a multi-pack bale aggregator from Spain, that has allowed him to be as efficient as possible in producing and handling the small bales that are required for the equine world. Indeed, without the time and labour efficiencies that the machine contributes, Scott believes the hay-making business would be unsustainable. He notes, “it’s been a complete game changer”. And while it occupies a smaller proportion of the farm income, and a larger proportion of land, it offers a valuable addition to the diversity of production options that characterise this innovative family’s approach to farming, and their enduring ability to adapt and change as the seasons and markets also change. 


Murray Bishell says now that he is retired from farming (but still living on the property) that he is both grateful and proud of his two capable sons with their expertise and, “hopefully, they’ll carry on the tradition.”