George Fistonich is living the American dream. The pioneering Croatian immigrant established his winery in what was then a fledgling industry and went on to become a big success. Except, George isn’t a U.S. citizen, nor does he live in the U.S. Rather, he fashioned his own New Zealand dream when he launched Villa Maria Estate in 1961. That year, the kiwi owner leased two hectares (approximately 5 acres), marking his 50th vintage in 2012.
From the very beginning, Villa Maria – so-named for the romance and international sound that “Maria” has for him – has been a labor of love for George. And, his passion has paid off, with Villa Maria becoming New Zealand’s most awarded winery. In addition to the praise heaped upon the wines themselves, George was knighted in 2009 and inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame in 2011.
Despite these accolades, he remains steadfast to his pursuit not only to quality, but to innovation. As of 2001, Villa Maria wines have been exclusively bottled under screw cap closures instead of cork. Outside of the winery, the company has made a commitment to preserving the environment, with a third of company-owned vineyards currently managed organically. Serving as a leader in the community, Villa Maria has pushed this agenda even further by ensuring that all growers with which it works adhere to sustainable agricultural practices.
Today, Villa Maria is among the top 5 largest producers of New Zealand wine, but don’t let its size put you off. The company is still very much a family business with George’s daughter, Karen Fistonich, now serving as Chair of the Board. And, even with his daughter and nephew, Fabian, actively involved, Sir George shows no signs of letting up. More importantly, the wines remain worthy of their awards as a recent tasting held in New York with Sir George and his winemaker, Alastair Maling, MW confirmed.
With vineyards in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago, Villa Maria sources its fruit from a variety of different New Zealand wine regions. Not surprisingly, it produces a wide range of wines starting with its value-focused, Private Bin label, then moving up to its Cellar Selection and Reserve wines, with its Single Vineyard designate wines at the top.
Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand, $15.00
A classic example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with pronounced nose of tropical fruit, citrus and slight herbal notes, all of which persist on the vibrant palate.
Available at Astor Wines, Beacon, and Sherry-Lehmann.
Taylors Pass Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand, $28.00
This wine is more subdued on the nose, with aromas of quince, citrus and herbs. On the palate, it has high acidity and complex flavors of quince, citrus, herbs, green pepper and black pepper.
Available at Morrell & Company.
Cellar Selection Riesling 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand, $22.00
Aromas include notes of citrus/lime and a hint of floral. The palate is dry, but the fruit is quite ripe, with flavors of lime, floral and minerality.
Available at 67 Wine and Gotham.
Private Bin Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand, $15.00
With black cherry and earth aromas on the nose, this wine shows more complexity on the palate with with the addition of spice and dried herbs.
Available at Garnet.
Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand, $45.00
Notes of black cherry, game and herbs greet the nose. The palate shows some slight tannic grip with flavors of black cherry, game, earth and minerality.
Available at Morrell & Company.