Last chance: You can still buy tickets to watch this Villa Maria virtual masterclass and taste the wines, via the Decanter at Home series – book here
On the inside cover of ‘The winemaker, George Fistonich and the Villa Maria story’ (K. Tyack), George Fistonich addressed me his dedication: “enjoy our history”. Very apt and timely words from the man who started one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most incredible and successful wine brands. The Villa Maria story is as fascinating as it is extensive. The company has been acknowledged as one of the world’s most admired wine brands on multiple occasions and for one main good reason: quality.
From that late winter day in September 1961 when George Fistonich launched Villa Maria he had quality, consistency and reliability driving his vision to make great wine. 60 years on, Villa Maria remains a household name in New Zealand and around the world. Wine exports began in 1988; in 2000 a second winery was built in Marlborough; in 2005 a winemaking facility and headquarters was opened in Mangere, Auckland followed, in 2018, by a new winemaking operation in Hawkes Bay. Today, Villa Maria sources its material from their Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough vineyards, as well as contract growers, with a focus on Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, the Cabernets, Merlot and Malbec. Vine age and exceptional vineyard work have allowed the business to develop single-vineyard, sub-regional and regional expressions.
Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for the six Villa Maria masterclass wines
A snapshot of Villa Maria’s current vision through six fascinating bottles came about recently when I had the chance to taste and discuss wine with 19-year veteran winemaker at Villa, Dave Roper.
What became abundantly clear with each wine we tasted was the effect that geography and soil have on each of them. Take the cool easterly winds on terraced vineyards at the Taylor’s Pass plot in Marlborough or the inland location of the Keltern vineyard in Hawkes Bay, established on an ancient riverbed coated in silty loams over red metals.
What I also noticed about the wines was how texture and structure were of equal importance to the power and style of each wine.
The tasting also offered the opportunity to examine longevity by contrasting a 2014 Marlborough Pinot Noir with the 2019 current release, as well as the Keltern 2014 Chardonnay with the 2020. For the Pinot Noirs I noticed the core of ripe fruit with a gently savoury line, polished tannins and stony mineral complexity. For the Chardonnays I was equally impressed by the texture and purity of fruit. A feature about the Keltern style is the mineral gun-flint spike in the bouquet and palate.
For a finish on the highest note the tasting closed with a highlight: the Ngakirikiri, named as a reflection of the Gimblett Gravels soils the grapes are grown on – an exceptional wine. I decided to taste it multiple times over several weeks, using a Coravin, to help me discover how long it will last. Needless to say it was persistent, concentrated, complex and will reward those who cellar some bottles. The Ngakirikiri will develop easily for 25-30 years.
Though Sir George is no longer part of the Villa Maria business and the brand and assets are now owned by New Zealand wine company Indevin, his vision, mission and dedication to quality are firmly cemented in the wines we are enjoying today and will very likely enjoy tomorrow as well.