50 Years of Winegrowing in Marlborough

Judy Ibbotson’s father Harry Tibbles who helped look after the family vineyard when first planted in 1978. 

For the sunny Marlborough region of New Zealand, 1973 marked a significant year for many reasons. The population of New Zealand had just reached three million, colour television was making its debut for Princess Anne's wedding, and an event that would shape the future of the wine industry was taking place—the first planting of Sauvignon Blanc grapevines in Marlborough. While times have certainly changed since that inaugural harvest, one thing remains constant: the dedication of Marlborough growers towards continuous improvement and the production of high-quality wines.

Neal and Judy Ibbotson, founders of Saint Clair Family Estate, are the definition of pioneering spirits in Marlborough. Their journey began when they purchased land in Marlborough with the intention of expanding their pig farm. However, fate had different plans for them. Intrigued by the newly popular wine industry in New Zealand, they decided to plant their own vines. At that time, they had only the knowledge shared by other Marlborough pioneers and a few lectures from Lincoln University to guide them.  

Work with the family Labrador - Sandy 

The Ibbotson family, including three children—Sarina, Tony and Julie, joined forces to plant, nurture, and cultivate their Muller Thurgau vineyard block, that’s right - no Sauvignon Blanc or grafted vines in those days. Despite this, it was a labour of love and dedication that would eventually lead to the birth of Saint Clair Family Estate.

Neal Ibbotson in the early days

Twenty years later, in 1994, Neal and Judy Ibbotson took a step outside of their comfort zone and established Saint Clair Family Estate and from that moment onwards, the winery continued to build a stellar reputation for producing high-quality wines sourced from the fertile soils of both Marlborough and eventually Hawke's Bay.

Over the years, Saint Clair Family Estate has gained numerous medals and trophies, a testament to commitment to quality. When asked about the secret behind the success of the business, Neal Ibbotson emphasises "quality people" is the key to success. The Saint Clair team has consistently pushed the boundaries, seeking better varietal vineyard sites and acquiring knowledge to cultivate top-notch grapes, craft quality wine, and expand distribution in global markets. Our mantra has always been, "How Do We Do It Better," a driving force behind continuous improvement within the business.

When questioned about what he would change if he could go back 50 years, Neal Ibbotson admits there is nothing major he would change despite the challenges they have met along the way. He highlights the importance of learning from challenges and the incredible fortune of being part of the Marlborough wine industry.

Neal and Judy Ibbotson attribute their success to the unwavering support of a dedicated team. Their gratitude extends to their staff, winemakers, contract growers, distributors, and loyal customers. They also acknowledge key figures like Henk Ruesink, a fellow pioneer grape grower who played a pivotal role in their journey, and Kim Crawford and Matt Thomson, who contributed significantly as winemakers. The influence of John Morice, a marketing expert who instilled in them the belief to aim for the top, is also celebrated.

Saint Clair Family Estate's decorated 50-year journey is a testament to the power of passion, hard work, and faultless commitment to quality. From humble beginnings to international recognition, Neal and Judy Ibbotson's story is a source of inspiration for wine enthusiasts and entrepreneurs alike. As they continue to craft exceptional wines, Saint Clair Family Estate remains a beacon of excellence in the world of New Zealand winemaking.

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