It has been a year of celebration at Villa Maria in New Zealand. October will mark the culmination of their year-long celebrations thatmark their 50th vintage. When Sir George Fistonich broke away from his family’s carpentary tradition to plant his first hectare of grapes,
few would have foreseen this level of success, writes
The year was 1961 and Sir George was all of 21. He leased five
hectares of land from his father and planted his first hectare with
grapes. As the first cuttings took hold in Mangere, the farm, he knew
that he had made the right decision.
A pioneer at every stage in his wine-making career, he has held on to
his own commitment to quality in the face of all odds. Among the first
pioneering decisions he took was to pay his grape suppliers by
depending on the quality of the grapes rather than the quantity. This
was an acknowledgment of the fact that the character of grapes depends
a lot on their terroir. Aware that quality grapes would not grow on
their own, he began employing professionals – winemakers and
viticulturists – to help develop quality grapes and wines.
Villa Maria became the first wine company to structure its wines
according to quality and price. The wines were categorised as
Private Bin, Cellar Selection, Reserve and Single Vineyard.
In a world where half the romance of opening a wine bottle lay in uncorking it, he went screw-top. This decision was taken to overcome the problems of cork taint and oxidation that was affecting wine
bottles closed with corks. Despite the world-wide perception that inferior wines come in screw-top bottles while quality wines are corked, he went ahead and declared his company a ‘cork-free zone’ in 2001. So adamant was he with regard to his commitment to screw-tops that he even turned down orders that demanded corks. Now, of course, screw-tops have
gained acceptance all over. Pictured: Sir George Fistonich
Another first to his credit stands tall in Manukau – a high-end
restaurant, cellar door and events space – the first of its type in
Auckland which has now become a landmark. The Villa Maria winery and
restaurant opened its doors in 2005 and is now one of the most popular
outdoor concert venues and one of the busiest cellar doors and
restaurants in New Zealand.
This is where Sir George will host his 50th vintage celebrations that
also mark the culmination of the road show that took Villa Maria’s
history to the US, Canada and Asia. The road show also covered
Australia, UK and Europe.
Villa Maria wines are available in India, imported by Brindco Limited.