Vine­yard’s fo­cus on en­vi­ron­ment

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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.

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