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03 Aug 2016 By

We had lunch with New Zealand’s Villa Maria wine pioneer Sir George Fistonich.

Sir George Fistonich is a legend whose wine you probably have drank but whose name you might not know; he received his knighthood in 2009 for his contributions to New Zealand’s wine industry.

We had lunch with him recently when he was passing through Sg – lucky us – and was given a wine lesson, as well as a NZ wine history lesson, and a tasting of his superb Villa Maria wines. Here’s what we learned: 

In the 60s, port and sherry dominated 90% of the NZ drinking market, it was rare for blokes to order wine, which was considered “sissy”, according to Sir George – it was beer or bust. So being the rebel he went ahead and produced wine anyway, hoping that in time people would come around. Guess they did, because…

Villa Maria is New Zealand’s leading wine award winner, both locally and internationally.

Auckland Villa Maria Sir George Fistonich

In 2005 he opened the Auckland winery and vineyard park.

And in 2012 they celebrated 50 years of excellent winemaking.

In 1979 he opened New Zealand’s first vineyard bar and restaurant in his Vidal winery. The first. And think about how regular that concept is now. You can’t not have one now.

Sir George was the first advocate of using screwtops instead or corks on wine bottles; he backed his judgement with science and economics. Back in the 1970s, it was not just a bold move, but brave and unheard of as well, and it cost him: “nearly 20-30 restaurants in the US delisted my wines from their menus”.

He preserved, however, and won the skeptics over; by 2001 the company was 100% cork-free. That screwtop bottle of NZ Cab Sauv or Pinot you’re so comfortable with – all thanks to him.

Villa Maria Sir George Fistonich

Fistonich pioneered the use of contract growers, especially of Bordeaux red varieties. Basically, you get paid for the quality of your grapes, and not for the quantity of it. This ensured he only worked with the best grapes, which resulted in award-winning wines, in particular the Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Cellar Selection Chardonnay, Cellar Selection Pinot Noir and (above) the Gewürztraminer. The wines are made with a mix of old and new oaks, and it recent times it has been made to be “less oaky” so it pairs better with food.

Villa Maria Sir George Fistonich

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