Villa Maria founder, Sir George Fistonich was just 21 when he first leased five acres of land from his father in Mangere, Auckland.
That was in 1961 and he started off with just an acre of vines. George made his first wine under the name Villa Maria in 1962 with grapes from this block.
Throughout the 1960s Villa Maria was a one-man band, with George’s wife, Gail, supporting him in the venture, making dry red and white wines and sourcing grapes from the greater Auckland region.
From the early 1970s, the company expanded rapidly and continued to grow and develop into today’s incredibly successful global exporter. Yet Villa Maria has never lost sight of its roots.
It remains a family-owned and New Zealand-owned business.
In 2009, George received the country’s first knighthood for services to the wine industry and in 2017 he was inducted to Restaurant and Hospitality Hall of Fame.
Now Villa Maria has reached the top three of the world’s most admired wine companies, with wineries in Auckland and Marlborough.
Q: You must be so proud of this top three ranking. What does it mean for you as a company?
A: To make it into the top three wine brands in the world is extremely special.
We are absolutely delighted, honoured and humbled.
The judges look for the wine and brand to be a true reflection of the country of origin; consistency and quality; marketing appeal; and the ability to meet consumer needs.
I think the quality of our wines consistently deliver and show we exceed in all the award criteria.
This award is a testament to the unrelenting passion, enthusiasm and intelligence of our wine-making and viticulture teams.
I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved over 58 years and we’ve built a wonderful brand and a fabulous team.
Q: Villa Maria is acknowledged as New Zealand’s leading wine award winner. How important is it for you to be able to benchmark yourselves against others in the industry?
A: We’ve never chased awards. We’ve just always focused on the quality of our wine and the awards have followed.
It has proven to be a winning formula.
I do believe wine competitions are an incredibly important way to benchmark our wines and performance.
They are actually quite pivotal in growing our industry here at home but also as a means for wineries to demonstrate the quality of New Zealand internationally too.
The spirit of competition always drives quality because if you are passionate about your craft then you should always be seeking to improve and never rest on your laurels.
Q: How has Villa Maria forged a reputation for innovation?
A: We’ve never been afraid to do things a little differently.
We were the first to pay growers for the quality of their grapes, not the quantity.
We were the first to open a winery restaurant and we turned the industry on its head when we moved to screw caps.
Bucking the trends is what has helped keep our name on everyone’s lips.
Q: What are some of the exciting new developments for Villa Maria this year?
A: We will be releasing the second vintage of our icon wine, Ngakirikiri ‘The Gravels’, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay.
In addition to this, another special wine that will be joining the icon status in our portfolio is our Keltern Chardonnay from the Hawke’s Bay.
Q: We understand that your 2019 vintage is outstanding. What sets it apart?
A: The 2019 vintage will be remembered for a very long time.
Nick Picone, our Chief Winemaker, remarked that it was the best vintage he has seen in his 23 vintages.
The grapes were picked in pristine condition.
Very rarely do we get all four regions – Marl-borough, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Auckland – performing so well during harvest.
It’s particularly exciting as we have experienced tropical cyclones in recent years during the harvest period.
That’s not to say it was entirely smooth sailing but that is what makes the wine industry so exciting, working with Mother Nature and every vintage being so different.
I know the wine-making and viticulture teams have done a superb job.
Q: Villa Maria is a founding member of Sustainable Wine growing NZ. How is that sustainability focus reflected in your practices?
A: It is at the heart of everything we do. Each of our three wineries is Bio Gro organically certified and currently 30% of our company owned vineyards are managed organically.
Our goal is to be 100% by 2030; it’s a very aspirational goal but something we will strive to achieve.
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…