Prowein 2019 was the 25th anniversary of the worlds largest and most important trade event for wine and spirits on the planet. Each Prowein event since the beginning has been held in Dusseldorf, Germany and has grown from just 321 wine exhibitors in its first year to nearly 7000 this year. As part of the Prowein celebration, the world’s most admired wine brands are announced.
The award is decided by a panel of 200 Master of Wine, Sommeliers and journalists and is based not only one whats in the glass but how the brand is perceived around the world. For the first time in the 25 year history a New Zealand wine brand made the prestigious top 3. That brand, none other than New Zealand’s most awarded winery - Villa Maria.
To celebrate Villa Maria's success we are giving everyone who spends at least £75 on any of the Villa Maria wines a free bottle of Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc worth £15.10 - Vidal, Esk Valley, Te Awa Left Field and Villa Maria wines are all included in the promotion. Shop the collection here.
Villa Maria is a household name in more than sixty countries worldwide, especially here in the UK. Sir George Fistonich has built a reputation for wines that are consistently delicious year in year out and Villa Maria has been voted New Zealand’s Most Admired Wine Brand for 5 years in a row. The announcement that Villa Maria was awarded the 3rd Most Admired Brand in the world in 2019 is testament to the consistency and dedication to producing excellent New Zealand wines with regional character. An enormous achievement.
Villa Maria was founded in 1961 from the humblest of beginnings by Sir George at only 21 years of age. George leased just 5 acres from his father in Auckland and planted 1 acre in vines, which he then made his first wines from under the label Villa Maria. Villa Maria's first vintage was over 100 years after the first winery in New Zealand was established in Hawke’s Bay, but at a time where the New Zealand export market for wine was virtually non existent. With vision, determination and an unrelenting pursuit of excellence Sir George Fistonich catapulted Villa Maria wines to the very top of the New Zealand wine industry and to the global brand it is today.
Sir George Fistonich’s family immigrated from Croatia to New Zealand in the 1920’s and because George was the 2nd son in the family it was Croatian custom for George to learn a trade and his older brother was destined to take a profession. George did take up carpentry but the pull of the wine industry was far too strong. George said that “being Croatian meant making wine was in his blood” and as soon as he was able to, he made the first step in building the Villa Maria wine family.
Sir George Fistonich’s passion and understanding of regionality in winemaking and the importance of investing in premium fruit lead to Villa Maria being the first New Zealand winery to pay contract growers a bonus for their fruit quality rather than a flat rate based on grape tonnage. This is not the only example where Sir George demonstrated that he truly was an industry pioneer. Villa Maria was one of the first wineries in New Zealand to hire professional viticulturists. This has now become the NZ wine industry norm.
Sir George’s understanding of the unique styles and different wine quality that can be created regionally is a key driver of Villa Maria's success and lead to contract winemaking being an extremely important element of the business model and eventually lead to the acquisition of the Villa Maria family wineries; Vidal, Esk Valley & Te Awa to strengthen the Villa Maria family’s unique vineyard sites across New Zealand. The first winery to join the Villa Maria family was Vidal 1976.
Vidal Estate was established in Hawke’s Bay in 1905 by Spanish immigrant Anthony Joseph Vidal. Vidal’s innovative spirit lead to vineyard plantings in now famous sub-regions of Hawke’s Bay, Te Awanaga and Te Mata and eventually when the Gimblett Gravels wine region was discovered Vidal acquired a vineyard in the Gravels.
When Villa Maria took the reins of this historic Hawke’s Bay Winery its legacy as an pioneering winery only strengthened. 3 years after Villa Maria ownership Sir George Fistonich established the first winery restaurant in New Zealand on the original site of Anthony Vidal’s very first winery. The winery, cellar door and restaurant continued to prosper and it’s urban location was a local favourite up until 2018 when the winery activities were moved to the new state of the art winery, cellar door and restaurant on the Gimblett Gravels named “The Gravels”.
The wines from Vidal are sourced from the Gimblett Gravel sites and also from Marlborough. Head winemaker Hugh Crichton’s passion is for classic Hawke’s Bay varieties that are expressive of their place and are in perfect balance. The Vidal Legacy Chardonnay is an exceptional example of how Hugh makes the most of the Gimblett Gravels vineyards to create world class Chardonnay.
When you make your way over the mountains from Lake Taupo before you reach the Art Deco city of Napier you must first drive through the Esk Valley just to the north of the city. The Esk Valley is a unique microclimate with views of the pacific ocean and is home to one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand, originally called the Glenvale winery when the original vines were planted in 1933. Fortified wines were the key wines being made by Glenvale right up until the 1970’s when the Esk Valley label was created to sell table wines as consumer trends were beginning to change in New Zealand from port style wines to the more familiar table wines we drink today.
In the 1980’s Sir George Fistonich acquired the Esk Valley winery and implemented a few changes to ensure the quality of wine being produced was at his trademark standards. New stainless steel tanks were added to the winery to compliment the historic concrete vats that were built for the original winery in the 1930’s and are still in use for the Winemaker’s Reserve and Terraces wines today.
Today, Esk Valley is an independently run Hawke’s Bay winery with its own winemaking team lead by Gordon Russel. Gordon started his winemaking career as a cellar hand in the Villa Maria Winery in the 1980s. The focus at Esk Valley under Russel's guidance is to make wines that tell the unique story of their terroir. Attention to details within the vineyard reduce the need to be too hands on during the winemaking process at Esk Valley. The natural style of winemaking with long term lees ageing and wild yeast ferments produces excellent wines.
We stock a few great examples of Esk Valley wines including the Esk Valley Merlot but no wine exemplifies Gordon Russel’s winemaking philosophy better than The Terraces. An ultra premium wine that is only made in exceptional years from the terraced vineyard above the winery, one of the best northern facing terraces in the country we might add! The Malbec dominant wine is a true field blend with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec all harvested and processed together and co-fermented in a 80 year old concrete vat.
Owners of one of the most prominent locations in the Famous Gimblett Gravels, Te Awa is the newest member of the Villa Maria family. The full name Te Awa o te atua in Maori means “River of God” and is a nod to the significant impact the Ngaruroro river had creating the Gimblett Gravels wine growing appellation. The Ngaruroro flooded and changing course leaving behind alluvial soils and river stones in the 1800's which has created a unique microclimate that is a few degrees hotter than the rest of Hawke's Bay. This microclimate is ideal growing conditions for Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. But more on that soon...
Since Te Awa joined the Villa Maria family in 2012 there have been some big changes including the introduction of the Left Field range which focuses on exploration, creativity and imagination when it comes to different wine regions and varieties and some funky labels.
The biggest change for the Te Awa site is that the winery was upgraded and is now known as The Gravels and is the spiritual home of Villa Maria, Vidal, Te Awa and Esk Valley in the Hawke’s Bay. With a functioning cellar door that has each of the Villa family wines brands available to sample.
Head winemaker of Te Awa Richard Painter will be visiting The New Zealand Cellar in May for a free tasting of his Leftfield range. You can get free tickets here.
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