From humble beginnings to iconic global brand: Villa Maria's sustainability measures are ensuring their heritage will be developed and protected for generations to come.
When you’re the country’s most-awarded winery, it would be easy to rest on your laurels. But family-owned Villa Maria has lofty ambitions. It’s a trait that started way back in 1961, when a young George Fistonich, at 21 years old, leased land from his father in Mangere, Auckland. He began with just an acre of vines, and a year later produced the first Villa Maria wine.
That modest start evolved into a business that now incorporates 28 different grape varieties, exports wine to more than 60 countries worldwide and has 250-plus permanent staff. Nonetheless, the evolution continues for this multi-award winning winery. With an ever increasing focus on sustainability measures, the ultimate goal is to make Villa Maria-owned vineyards 100 per cent organic by 2030.
Villa Maria has been a member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand since the organisation’s inception in 1995 and all of its vineyards and wineries are certified by it.
Key to the winery’s sustainability philosophies are its efforts to foster regenerative viticulture, a series of practices to promote soil health and a balanced ecosystem using nature’s own behaviours.
Villa Maria’s initiatives to nurture its soils include compost from their grape marc (the leftover grape skins from their winemaking); output from their worm farms, which are fed from food waste from the company’s Auckland and Hawkes Bay facilities; and planting cover crops, such as clover, to manage weeds. The result is healthy, fertile soil, producing strong vines and nutrient-dense fruit, which in turn makes delicious wine. The other upshot of all the recycling is that carbon emissions have also been reduced by 36 per cent per bottle of wine in the last 10 years, with the aim of making it a 50 per cent reduction in emissions and a zero waste to landfill by 2025.
Along with these soil initiatives, more than 700 kilograms of wildflower seeds are planted every year to attract beneficial insects, including precious bees, to encourage biodiversity. In addition, an ever-evolving number of ideas are being implemented and trialled to improve practices across the board, including electric forklifts, a partnership with Trees that Count so consumers can join the journey and contribute to native trees being planted around NZ, and reducing reliance on water or storing water in times of plenty.
The people factor
Of course, none of this would be possible without the creativity and dedication of a passionate staff. Villa Maria invests in people who share their common goal of working towards a sustainable future, in every regard. It’s not always easy work, and to capture the spirit of those who make the business thrive, a new documentary, Vintage, has been released on ThreeNow to tell the uniquely Kiwi story of what it takes to make world-class wine in New Zealand. It’s a peek behind the curtain, where viewers can witness the intensity of a harvest period, aka vintage, to better understand how much work goes into each and every bottle of Villa Maria wine. In the stunning picturesque setting of Hawkes Bay, sit back and witness how key players such as chief winemaker Nick Picone, viticulturist Stu Dudley and young harvest intern Jessica Marston, bring nature, science and magic together to produce an exceptional vintage.
Pour yourself a glass of your favourite Villa Maria wine and head here to see how it all unfolds.