The name Highfield originates from the Walsh family, who hailed from Ireland. They purchased their 365-acre Marlborough farm in 1935 and named it Highfield after an area near Galway Bay in their homeland.
On Highfield farm the Walsh family grew crops, grazed stock and bred horses, eventually handing over the reins to their son Bill and his wife Barbara. Bill was of an entrepreneurial nature, always ready to consider a new venture, and in the mid â70âs when he heard that a major New Zealand wine company was considering planting grapes in Marlborough he decided to try his hand.
Billâs first planting was 2 Âœ acres of Muller Thurgau, a medium sweet German grape variety that produced wine meant for drinking young. Before long Highfieldâs plantings increased. Quite by accident, Bill and another local grape grower discovered some ârogueâ grapes amongst the Muller Thurgau vines in the vineyard. Unsure as to just exactly what these infiltrators were, they took cuttings. The plants that subsequently grew proved to be none other than Sauvignon Blanc. The quality of the wine produced from these grapes encouraged the Walsh family to make and market wine under their own label.
In 1990 the long-awaited opening of the Highfield winery took place, but the companyâs high hopes were soon to be dashed. Soaring interest rates together with the changing patterns of demand saw the business falter not long after the winery was opened. The company couldnât even afford to buy the bottles for the current vintage.
The solution to the companyâs financial predicament was found in a Japanese fire fighting industrialist, Shin Yokoi and a Bristol business man, Tom Tenuwera. A wine aficionado, Tom had always been entranced by the spectacular beauty of New Zealand and the warmth of its people. It was a sentiment shared by his old friend Shin, along with a particular interest in the âChampagne Trinityâ of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. In 1991 Shin and Tom signed a purchase agreement for Highfield.
Shinâs company was Champagne Drappierâs sole agent in Japan, and it was not long before he invited Michel Drappier, scion of the House of Drappier, to help guide Highfieldâs MĂ©thode Champenoise, Elstree CuvĂ©e Brut. The first Elstree made in 1993 won a gold medal at the National Wine Show of Australia in 1996. Success followed success with most of the ensuing years earning gold medals and awards for the Elstree, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
From the outset, Shin and Tom have had high aspirations for Highfield, establishing Elstree CuvĂ©e Brut as their flagship wine. Wine writer Bob Campbell MW recently commented, âHighfieldâs Elstree CuvĂ©e Brut is impressive with a Champagne-like finesse and powerâ.
Today talented Kiwi winemaker, Alistair Soper, crafts Highfieldâs classic Marlborough wines with a commitment to consistency of quality and style. He traditionally makes a small and focused range of wines: Elstree CuvĂ©e Brut, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.