Wine pioneer lets go of the reins
After 57 years at the helm, wine pioneer Sir George Fistonich is handing over the reins of his winery Villa Maria Estate.
Fistonich founded the wine company in 1961, and has since grown it into one of the most admired wine brands in the world. He has been instrumental in helping with the global success of New Zealand wine.
New chief executive Abe Salt will take over on March 5. Fistonich will continue to have a hands-on role in the company as president and brand ambassador.
Fistonich said he was stepping aside as his ambassador role had ‘‘become extremely time-consuming’’.
‘‘This will allow me to concentrate on my global brand ambassadorial role and drive other large projects such as the development of our new winery and retail centre in Hawke’s Bay.’’
Fistonich was 21 when he leased five acres from his father in Mangere, Auckland and planted an acre of vines.
He harvested his first grapes the following year, and bottled his first wine under the name Villa Maria.
Throughout the 1960s, Villa Maria was a one-man band. He made dry red and white wines, sourcing grapes from the greater Auckland regions.
In the early 1970s, Fistonich started to employ staff and the company began to expand. He started exporting his wine in 1988, and the company now exports to more than 50 countries.
Fistonich was knighted in 2009 for services to the New Zealand wine industry. This was the first knighthood of its kind.
Salt has 15 years’ experience in the wine industry, investment banking and strategic advisory.
Prior to being a principal at Iron Gate Consulting, where he focused on strategic advice to the wine industry, Salt spent more than five years as the global head of strategy at Treasury Wine Estates.
Villa Maria Estate founder Sir George Fistonich was the first recipient of a knighthood for services to the wine industry.