Winemaker Villa Maria has been rated the world’s fourth most respected wine brand, alongside the likes of Torres, Penfolds and Chateau Margaux. Five New Zealand brands made it into the top 50 of the Drinks International list, with first time entrant Felton Road at number 13, Cloudy Bay 24, Brancott Estate 42, and Oyster Bay at 46. Founder and CEO of Villa Maria Estate Sir George Fistonich said it was very significant recognition for the local wine industry. The judging panel of 200 was the “cream” of the wine critic world, with a third Masters of Wine, a third sommeliers and a third journalists and bloggers.
READ MORE: Sir George Fistonich – how a South Auckland boy made it big
Villa Maria made its first entry onto the list in 2015 when it soared immediately to fourth, followed by eighth last year before being promoted to fourth again this year.
Master of Wine Alastair Maling, a former Villa Maria winemaker, said the company had always made good wines.
“These things are great brand stories. There are so many competitions that it’s difficult to know what is relevant, but when you see the list of prestigious names, then it is quite an honour.”
The criteria the judges worked on were: the wine should be of consistent or improving quality; it should reflect its region or country of origin; it should respond to the needs and tastes of its target audience; it should be well marketed and packaged; it should have strong appeal to a wide demographic.
“Villa Maria remains New Zealand’s most respected wine producer,” said editor of Drinks International Christian Davis.
“It is up there with the best of them – rightly so. Personally, I have never had a bottle of Villa Maria that has disappointed. I know what I am getting when I buy a bottle of Villa Maria – and that is the essence of good branding – consistency and quality, at the appropriate price.
“George Fistonich is not only a fine winemaker but he’s a talent spotter. He has nurtured some of New Zealand’s top winemakers.
“I reckon there are producers in other countries that would grub up their vines to be in the position that New Zealand and Villa Maria are in the global wine world.”
Fistonich said Villa Maria belonged in the same company as Chateau Lafitte and Chateau Latour.
“Over 35 years we have won most gold medals and we were recently rated number one New Zealand winemaker by Wine Spectator magazine.”
The owner of Otago winery Felton Road, Nigel Greening, described the listing as a great honour. He believed the niche winery was the smallest in the list.
He did not enter competitions because wine making was “not a competitive sport”, but Felton Road was well known internationally. Wine Spectator had recently awarded its 2015 pinot noir 97 points, the highest ever given for that variety by the magazine.
“What makes this special for us is the rigorous process Drinks International follow to build this list. It isn’t a few people round the table thinking up names, but a very broad brushstroke of what our colleagues in the wider industry think about what we do.”
“By any measure we are a small winery that doesn’t even have a marketing budget, but we manage to export to over 40 markets and it is a point of honour that we visit as many as possible to meet with customers,” Greening said.