Celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2012, Villa Maria is one of the best known and recognisable New Zealand brands on the UK market; it is not one of the biggest in terms of volume, but one of the best-known brands in terms of its quality reputation. The winery is proud of its position as New Zealand’s most awarded winery, an accolade it has held for over 30 years.
About Villa Maria
Established in 1961, Villa Maria has ridden high on the crest of the New Zealand success story, with an impressive range of wines from most of the key wine regions, and has one of the highest average price points of all the New Zealand wine brands, an impressive statistic in itself, considering that UK wine drinkers, in any case, are prepared to spend more money on New Zealand wine than wine from any other country.
From a tiny segment of the wine market less than 10 years ago, New Zealand now represents an impressive 6% of total sales in the UK, with Villa Maria offering one of the broadest ranges.
Villa Maria is one of the most innovative and forward thinking wine businesses in New Zealand, and is renowned as the driving force behind the move to screwcaps, initially in New Zealand and now all over the world. Villa Maria’s founder, George Fistonich, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the International Wine Challenge, but far more importantly was the first New Zealander to be knighted in the New Zealand Honours’ list, for services to the Wine Industry.
Villa Maria was founded in 1961, by George Fistonich, one of many Croatian immigrants to New Zealand. A true entrepreneur, he leased 5 acres of land from his father, near Auckland, planted one, and made his first wine. Over the next 10 years, he single-handedly made his wines, and started to build the brand, whose name he created.
A true entrepreneur, Fistonich purchased the Vidal winery in Hawkes Bay in 1975, and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot amongst other grapes, just at the time, when these grape varieties started to take off in a major way. Villa Maria then purchased in Marlborough in the early 80s, and the business expanded from there. Now the company focusses its wine production on the main areas of Marlborough, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.
George Fistonich, is undoubtedly one of the greatest innovators within the New Zealand wine industry, leading initiatives at every stage over the last few decades. From an early stage, he focussed on showcasing regional characteristics within his wines, and strove for optimum quality. He was the first producer to set up the now standard agreement of paying contract growers, based on the quality of the grapes they were supplying, and not just a flat price. He was also the first one to bring in specialist viticulturists to study the vineyards and vines, and develop the best techniques for optimum grape development.
But he is probably best known for being the pioneer of the ‘screwcap’; fed up of the amount of wine that was being spoilt by bad corks, George and his team began experimenting, and in 2000, boldly made the statement that Villa Maria would become a ‘cork-free zone’, moving its entire production to screwcaps, including reds, by 2002. At this stage, this was a very risky move, since screwcaps had a poor quality image in Europe and the US, and there was a considerable danger of losing a large proportion of export volume. However, the initiative caught on in New Zealand, and slowly, but surely, backed by a strong consumer education campaign (and the help of the UK supermarkets), the phenomenon of the screwcap was established, and gained recognition and acceptance. Today screwcaps are the ‘norm’, and, for all their benefits, we have George Fistonich to thank.
What Style Of Wine Does Villa Maria Make?
The Villa Maria range of wines is categorised by 4 different tiers, from Private bin, through Cellar Selection, and Reserve, to the pinnacle of the Single Vineyard wines.
Villa Maria’s entry level wines stand high above many other brands in terms of quality, and constantly win awards. They aim to provide a range of wines to showcase the grape variety, and the region where it is grown, and produce consistent, great value wines. The white wine range covers just about every major grape variety grown, from the flagship, zesty Sauvignon Blanc, and a creamily smooth Gisborne Chardonnay, to 4 exciting, aromatic wines, which New Zealand is producing so well, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
There’s a dry, fruity Syrah Rose in the range, and 4 characterful and varied reds, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Merlot/Cabernet, and Syrah.
Here the emphasis is on the pure fruit quality, with very careful handling of the grapes and winemaking, to produce, elegant, benchmark wines, which truly showcase their origin. There are 6 whites, similar varieties to the Private Bin range, but more focussed, and slightly more intense in style – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Gewurztraminer; and 3 elegant, fruit-driven reds, Pinot Noir, Merlot Cabernet and Syrah.
Only Villa Maria’s top wines are selected for the Reserve category, and our superb examples of top quality wines, showcasing regionality, and well as the characteristics of the grape from which they are made, in an intense, yet, supremely balanced style.
This is where Villa Maria focus in on each of their different regions, to show their wines in their best environments. Not all the wines are available in the UK, however there are 5 regional Reserve whites, each with a unique style – Hawkes Bay Chardonnay; Marlborough Chardonnay; Marlborough Riesling; Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc; and Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc.
As well as 3 reds from the famous Gimblett Gravels area of Hawkes Bay, there are 3 impressive single varietals, Hawkes Bay Merlot, Marlborough Pinot Noir , and Hawkes Bay Syrah.
These wines are best described in the winery’s own words:
Each wine within this range displays its own distinct characteristics, which result from the unique terroir of the site from where the fruit is sourced. The winemaking approach for the Single Vineyard range is for minimal intervention, allowing the wine to take its own path.
These are unique wines, made in tiny quantities, 13 wines in all, across most of the main grape varieties that Villa Maria plant.