Wine pi­o­neer lets go of the reins

Nelson Mail - - BUSINESS - CHLOE WIN­TER

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.

PHOTO: NEIL HODG­SON

Villa Maria Estate founder Sir Ge­orge Fis­tonich was the first re­cip­i­ent of a knight­hood for ser­vices to the wine in­dus­try.

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