Vineyard’s focus on environment
In the early 1960s, young George Fistonich leased a few acres of land off his father in Mangere in South Auckland and whacked a few vines in. His first vintage was in 1962, under the name Villa Maria – you may have heard of them.
Since then, young George, alongside his wife Gail, have grown Villa Maria from a tiny concern to one of the most successful and iconic names in New Zealand wine, along the way becoming New Zealand’s most awarded winery. Their company owned vineyards now span the length and breadth of the country, producing wines that are fine examples of the local terroir.
In 2009, George became the first person in New Zealand to be knighted for services to the New Zealand wine industry. Sir George, as he is now known, remains at the helm of a group that includes Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley, Thornbury and Te Awa.
Villa Maria is committed to environmental responsibility and sustainable practices, and produce a number of certified organic wines.
While an impressive 30 per cent of their company-held vineyards already certified organic, its long-term plan is to have all vineyards achieve this benchmark.
In the meantime, their sustainability takes such practical steps as having worm farms being fed on kitchen scraps to produce fertiliser, planting wildflowers between the rows of vines to attract friendly critters and ward-off not so friendly ones, and allowing sheep to wander through the grape-less vines to both fertilise and help in leaf plucking (or in this case, leaf munching).
It creates a beautifully harmonious environment that is evident in their wines.
Tempranillo is the most commonly planted variety in Spain, yet is a relative newcomer to these shores. From the evidence of the quite remarkable Te Awa Gimblett Gravels 2014 Tempranillo ($35), it should be a success.
A spectacular Hawke’s Bay wine from the legendary Gimblett Gravels sub region, it is concentrated and flavoursome, held together with firm, grippy tannins. It was aged in French Oak for 18 months, and is a beautiful, spicy, rich and savoury wine that will continue to develop with age, if you can avoid the temptation to drink it immediately (clearly I couldn’t).
Te Awa 2015 Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay ($30) is perhaps one of my front-runners for wine of the year (and yes, I do intend to try as many as I can).
Partial malolactic fermentation (the process of turning fruit acids into milk acids, and thus adding creaminess), French oak aging and fermentation, wild yeasts and lees aging has led to a firm, concentrated, lush and toasty chardonnay that is a magnificent example of what New Zealand wine should be all about. High quality and characterful, this wine leaves others gasping in its wake.
I remember years ago when I was involved in wine retail, the only ‘‘organic’’ New Zealand wines I could find on the market were the quite stunning, special occasion examples from Gisborne’s Millton.
Villa Maria is now producing a mid-priced range of certified organic wines that are both affordable and approachable. I have long enjoyed a good Gewurztraminer, and the Villa Maria Private Bin 2016 Organic Gewurztraminer from Hawke’s Bay ($16) is indeed a good gewurz.
Sir George Fistonich at the Villa Maria Winery.