Asian Correspondent » Villa Maria Asian Correspondent Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:59:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A busy 2011 for Villa Maria in Asia Mon, 07 Feb 2011 00:31:28 +0000

By Charlotte Read – Asian Market Manager

Happy Chinese New Year of the Rabbit.  I would be intrigued to follow the journey of all the wine bottles that were given as gifts throughout this important holiday!    I’m looking forward to making my first trip to Asia in 2011 next week, when the busy holiday season is over.  Although leaving the balmy temperatures of the New Zealand summer for the sub zero conditions in Beijing is going to be an adjustment!   However the quick pace of the trip will keep the blood flowing.  Between February 16 to March 2 I will spend time in Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Hong Kong before warming up closer to the equator in Singapore en route home.

Upon my return, our 2011 vintage will be in full swing.  We’ve had fabulous ripening conditions throughout the summer months, so long may they continue.  Now that I’m based in New Zealand, I am looking forward to the chance to spend a couple of days in the cellar.  Villa Maria’s concert season will also ensure our grapes surrounding the Auckland and Marlborough wineries will get some timely tuneful stimulation in their final ripening days prior to harvest.

I will return to Asia a month later for the New Zealand Wine Growers tasting in China and Japan in April.  On April 12 we will be showing a great range of wines in Beijing then will repeat the tasting in Shanghai on the 14th.  Seminars will also be run in both cities for those really keen to learn more about the diversity of New Zealand wine. We then continue onto Japan for tastings in Tokyo on April 18th and April 20th.

 This brings me to the Easter holidays – I think taking some time to more sedately enjoy Japan is a must.  The Japanese vineyards beckon…

This will be my final blog post on Asian Correspondent, to keep in touch with the latest Villa Maria news sign up for our newsletter at

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Telling the story of New Zealand wine in India Mon, 07 Feb 2011 00:30:28 +0000

By Charlotte Read, Asia Market Manager

India has been a key market of focus for Villa Maria Estate since 2007 when it began working with Brindco Sales Ltd, the largest importer of premium wines.  Villa Maria is just one of a handful of New Zealand wines present in India at the moment, and together with Brindco is working hard to establish a profile for New Zealand wine in India.

Over the past two years, India has been one of the fastest growing markets in the developing Asian region, despite the heavy taxes applied to wine here.  Like China, it has a huge population over a billion with the urban emerging middle class of 250 million inhabitants, who have the right consumer profile to embrace wine as a lifestyle beverage. Historically India is a spirits and beer market with ~200 million people drinking liquor.  A total of 300 million cases of which were consumed last year, compared to the estimated 1 million cases of wine.   There’s huge potential for growth in the wine category, especially with the growing domestic wine industry in areas such as Nashik and Nandi Hills.  Wineries such as Grover, keen to make a mark on the international stage are employing top consultants such as Michel Rolland to assist them make the best quality wine possible from a region that falls under the increasingly used moniker ‘New Latitude Wines’.

It’s important to note that India has predominantly been a non-drinking country and has even embedded this principal in the constitution. Section 47 of the Directive Principle of State Policy declares that “the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption – except for medicinal purposes – of intoxicating drinks”. A majority of Indians not only shun alcohol, but also consider it taboo.   However there are still a lot who do imbibe, and it’s the impressive double digit growth figures that first sent the Europeans; French and Italians rushing to see some growth that their historical saturated markets are no longer providing.  Several French wine businesses have even invested in India.  This growth of 30% is conservative if the duties were lowered.  Then we could see the market increasing 12 times to about in 60 m litres in 10 years.

The taxation on wine doesn’t help its growth.  Although rates are much better than they used to be. Now 160% instead of 260%.  But still, wine drinking a very expensive past time largely confined to the better off, and those who frequent the 5 star hotels.  This is where the best range of wines are to be found as hotels are exempt from the import duty due to the foreign exchange earnings they bring to India and hence this is the main distribution channel for wines that Villa Maria  focus their efforts on. Most retails outlets, though, are in poor shape when it comes to wines, many of which gather dust in forgotten corners. In the whole of Delhi there is not a single store with proper wine storage or a trained staff.

Brindco have done a fabulous job building the Villa Maria to be the strongest New Zealand wine brands.  Villa Maria’s biggest sellers are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but due to the versatility of their fresh aromatic styles with time, a following for a wider range of white wines in particular will develop; namely Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris. Other reds such as Hawkes Bay Syrah and Bordeaux blends are also gaining a strong following.

A major customer of Villa Maria is the Taj Hotel group.  On myrecent visit to India at the end of last year I conducted Villa Maria wine dinners in the Chambers restaurant in Delhi and at the Taj West End in Bangalore.  Both featured beautifully designed menus to match the dishes to the wines.,BANGALORE/MASALA%20KLUB/default.htm

Pictured above is Aman Dhall, Managing Director of Brindco and me, talking to dinner guests about New Zealand and Villa Maria prior to being seated for dinner.

Impressed to see how Brindco make it easy for diners in atmospheric candle light to navigate their way around the wines with labels placed on each glass

Me with GM of the Taj West End and Chef of the Masala Club

Me after a long day in the trade

Wines sales trips don’t only involving fine dining establishments! Brindco Salesman ,Max Olio arranging lunch on the run

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The perfect place for a vineyard concert Sun, 06 Feb 2011 21:05:20 +0000

By Maree Saunders, Villa Maria Wine Experience Manager

Every year Villa Maria’s Auckland and Marlborough vineyards are host to our annual concert series. Featuring a range of international and local musicians, there’s no better way to spend a sunny Summer day amongst the vines listing to good music.

This year our concert lineup is a goodie with three Auckland concerts and one in Marlborough.

This year’s concerts at Villa Maria Estate vineyards include:

At Villa Maria Estate Marlborough
– The More FM Winery Tour; Friday 25 February 2011

At Villa Maria Estate Auckland
–  Crowded House – Sunday 27 February 2011
–  The MoreFM Winery Tour – Saturday 5 March 2011
–  Roxy Music – Sunday 6 March 2011

This year’s MORE FM Winery Tour 2011 is set to be a real crowd pleaser. New Zealand’s favourite songbird Brooke Fraser will headline the show, supported by chart-topping four-piece band OPSHOP and the popular Auckland rock band, Midnight Youth. Villa Maria is lucky enough to host this show at both our Marlborough winery site (25 Feb) and our Auckland winery (5 March).

Not just an Australasian favourite, but one of the world’s most exceptional and enduring bands, Crowded House will grace the stage at Villa Maria Estate on February 27 2011. They are set to play for two hours delivering the energetic, charismatic and hit-filled show – its going to be fantastic!

To sweeten the deal, this concert will see Kiwi rock institution Supergroove as the main supporting act.

Roxy Music are coming to New Zealand for ONE SHOW ONLY – at Villa Maria Estate Winery on Sunday 6 March. Legendary vocalist Bryan Ferry will be joined by guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay and the great Paul Thompson on drums.

For such a special act Villa Maria has created a VIP package for those wishing to enhance their concert experience with award wining Villa Maria wine and gourmet food.

To get a real feel for the concert atmosphere you can also view past concert photos and video footage on this site:

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Exports of New Zealand Wine to Japan surge Wed, 26 Jan 2011 01:49:28 +0000

By Charlotte Read

Japan has long been one of the most important Asian markets for New Zealand wine due to the sophistication of its wine scene compared to its Asian neighbours. In the latest New Zealand Wine Export data to the end of Nov 2010 for the first five months of the financial year, Japan showed the highest export growth of any Asian market – with a growth a 57% upon the same period year ago.   This is very encouraging when in the year to June 2010, Exports of New Zealand wine grew by 16%.

New World wines, including New Zealand wines, are generally more competitively priced than old world and are therefore gaining in popularity at a time when the Japanese economy is suffering from the global recession and more people are drinking wine at home. The perception that New Zealand products are clean, green and sustainable is increasingly important in Japan where ‘healthy’ products are big business. Sustainably produced, organic and biodynamic wines can do very well in this market.

The delicacy of Japanese cuisine is a perfect match to the pure vibrancy of New Zealand’s wine and we look forward to expanding our presence beyond our most popular Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines currently available. The wine trade in Tokyo see New Zealand wines as an increasingly important part of their quality/value proposition – the premium alternative to French wine with a diverse range of varieties and compelling stories.  Events like the Bledisloe Cup, held overseas in Tokyo for the first time in October 2009 heightened awareness of brand New Zealand, including that of NZ wine.  We are looking forward to the Rugby World Cup being help in New Zealand in September 2011.  The first match of Japan vs New Zealand in our oldest wine producing region of Hawkes Bay will be one to watch out for!

New Zealand Wine Growers, the generic marketing body for our industry are doing a great job to boost the profile of New Zealand wine in Japan.   For the last two years they have run a restaurant promotion called NZ in a Glass promotion that saw many restaurants in and around Tokyo carry 3 or more New Zealand wines by the glass. When it was first conducted in July 2009, sales of NZ wine increased by over 400% during the promotional period and a similar promotion run in September 2010 yielded even better results.

Villa Maria Marlborough Winery

Last night Villa Maria has just hosted the winners of the 2010 competition at our Marlborough Winery.  Motoko Ishii, who acts as NZ Winegrowers’ Japan-based event coordinator and is a respected wine judge and educator wine consultant, journalist and event organizer, accompanied the sommelier winners.   Mr Takushi Obi  from Daimasu Wine-Kan and Mr Yoshifumi Sakamoto from WW (World Wine Bar and Bistro – part of the PJ Group). Kate Garton, Market Manager Asia, from New Zealand Winegrowers also joined in the fun.

Winemaker Jeremy with Motoko,Taku and YoshiTasting at Villa Maria Marlborough

Daimasu Wine-Kan is a three-storey wine bar and restaurant, which is situated in Asakusa – the tourist hotspot in the heart of downtown Tokyo. The restaurant has had many favorable reviews in Japanese gourmet, food and wine magazines since its opening in 2008. It receives high praise its range of reasonably-priced range of wines by the glass. Mr Ueki, the owner, also owns a supermarket, wine shop and pub in Asakusa. Daimasu Wine-Kan sold 707 bottles during the recent NZ in a Glass promotion in September 2010.

WW restaurant was also one of the top-performing restaurants from the 2009 promotion, WW is a popular bistro and wine bar in the Marunouchi area, owned by PJ Group and Australian chef Luke Mangan. WW sold only New Zealand wines by the glass during the promotion – a total of 589 bottles during September 2010. WW performed very well in 2009 – making them the top-selling outlet over the two years that the promotion has been operating.

We had a great tasting at Villa Maria last night with Senior Marlborough winemaker, Jeremy McKenzie taking the group through the 13 Villa Maria wines that Villa Maria’s longstanding importer Kinoshita International sells in the Japanese markets

We also were treated to a barrel tasting of the different Pinot Noir clones that shape our wines.  Jeremy is pictured here nimbly jumping up on highly perched barrel.

Winemaker Jeremy McKenzie

Our Japanese guests were then very impressed to see Jeremy and fellow Villa Maria winemaker, Murray Cook prepare a delicious meal afterwards.  I think Murray has his last name for a reason – the meal was delicious.  The gigantic green lipped mussels that NZ is famed for were beautifully prepared with an Asian both of coriander, lemon grass, chilli and Vietnamese basil and Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc thrown in of course.

NZ Green Lipped Mussels prepared by winemaker Murray Cook

This was washed down with the stunning Villa Maria Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  As you can see the broth was too good to go to waste:

An excellent broth

We were then treated to eye fillet cooked to perfection on the barbecue accompanied by fresh sweet corn which is at the height of its season in New Zealand.

BBQ overlooking the vineyard

Mr Sakomoto was intrigued as to how our Bordeaux blends improve with age so we decanted the Villa Maria Hawkes Bay Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2006 from the Gimblett Gravels.  He commented that that 2008 that we tasted in the formal tasting was just a baby – but the 2006 was coming into its prime.  We finished the evening off with our rare Villa Maria Reserve Noble Riesling.  Unfortunately we don’t have enough to export to Asia.  Lets hope the 2011 vintage conditions allow some good Noble rot to set in.

We are looking forward to receiving Mr Kinoshita in a few weeks time in New Zealand.  He is passionate about New Zealand wine and he and his team have has done a great job building the Villa Maria brand in the Japanese market.  I have enjoyed tasting his delicate wine made from the Koshu grape from his winery Chateau Sakori.  I wonder if New Zealanders will take an equal interest in Japanese wine in the future?

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New Wine in the Old World Sun, 16 Jan 2011 20:51:19 +0000

By Bernard Budel, European Market Manager for Villa Maria Estate

For many years there has been a relationship between the ‘Old’ countries of Europe and the developing and emerging ‘New’ countries of the Asia/Pacific region (even if some of these new countries are older than the old countries). Originating in the trade of Silk in antiquity, it later included tourism and natural resources, now the New World is trading with goods that once were synonymous with the Old World, one such example is fine wine.

The European continent, on paper, looks like a dream market for a New World wine exporter. There is an established wine culture, good income levels and great network of importers and distributors with decades of experience. There is a catch though, selling wine to Europeans is like teaching Inuit about snow or explaining a new method of making Sushi to a restaurateur in Tokyo. We are dealing with experts here. As such we really do need a compelling reason for them to listen, and luckily for myself, the New Zealand landscape has been able to create something truly special.

From the crisp, vibrant and sensational Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to the balanced, graceful and seductive Marlborough Pinot Noir ,and more recently with the power, depth and spice of Hawkes Bay Syrah, New Zealand produces a quality of wine to equal that of the best Old World producers.

So the plan in Europe for Villa Maria was and is a simple one. A microphone in one hand, pouring our wine with the other, the story and the taste need to be taken to the people. For the past 11 years this approach has been slowly making inroads.

While New Zealand wine represents only about 1% of the European market (outside of the UK), we have been growing every year. Villa Maria sales are up 30% from a year ago and I am forecasting for accelerated growth as the European economy recovers from the global credit crunch. To aid in this growth I travel extensively throughout Europe, bottles of wine in tow, to some interesting places.

From the ancient Thracian ruins of Bulgaria...

To the Canals of Amsterdam...

To the vibrant city of Stockholm.

I think we can safely say that New Zealand’s most awarded wines may also be the most travelled.

2011 and beyond is an exciting time. With a focus from the Nordic monopolies on New Zealand, a growing awareness of New Zealand wine styles in Germany, The Netherlands, and Eastern Europe and a busy travel plan, the New Zealand wine experience will be even more accessible to the people of Europe.

The Old World is fast accepting and embracing the New World, and Villa Maria is determined to be at the forefront of this.

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A glorious summer holiday amongst the vines in Hawkes Bay – the Mediterranean of New Zealand Thu, 13 Jan 2011 02:24:59 +0000

By Charlotte Read – Asian Market Manager

In New Zealand many are returning to work now after the Christmas holidays. Unlike those in the Northern Hemisphere who take a long break for summer in the middle of the year, we do everything at once – Christmas and New Year celebrations and then we continue on to embrace summer.  The typical kiwi holiday involves being close to water whether it be the beach or a lake.  Due to our thin ozone layer, New Zealanders have to be incredibly careful to ward off sunburn.  Without a high factor sun cream you can burn in less than 5 minutes.   Childhoods of endless sunburn has resulted with our small nation having one of the highest incidences of melanoma per capita in the world.  However our strong sunlight and clean atmosphere provides a wonderful environment for grapes to grow and contributes to that purity of fruit character our wines are so famous for.

I spent my holidays over the past few weeks home with my family in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand’s oldest wine producing region.  We enjoyed countless cloudless days where after 11am shade had to be sought as it was too hot to be out in the direct sun.  My parent’s home is just a few kilometres down the road from our hallowed Gimblett Gravels growing region – and I enjoyed thinking of our great Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from this premium site happily going through veraison.  I wonder if our 2011 vintage is going to be earlier this year as a result of this great  weather?

Given Asian wine lovers favour for red wines, the premium wines of Hawkes Bay have so much potential in Asia for us.  I look forward to promoting them on my many trips planned to Asia in the year ahead.   For anyone travelling to New Zealand to learn about our wines, a visit to Hawkes Bay is a must.  There is a great website run by the Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Association that gives great background The Gimblett Gravels site is also a great resource to learn more about how this region produces such special wines.

I’m really hoping I can get down to Hawkes Bay on Jan 29 for the Hawkes Bay Wine and Food Festival. Hawkes Bay often gets coined as  the Mediterranean of New Zealand, and this festival really illustrates this.  Purveyors of Hawkes Bay grown wine, cheeses, olive oils, honey and countless other gastronomic delights will all be there.  I’m salivating already.

My top wine from this region has to be our Cellar Selection Syrah. Oz Clark named our 2006 vintage as his top wine in his annual 250 wine picks a few years ago, and the wine continues to go from strength to strength.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah 2006 tasting note: 
Deeply coloured with purple hues in the glass, the nose is densely packed with ripe blueberry, red plum and peppery spice aromas, underpinned by an aromatic violet lift. The palate is medium bodied in style with a juicy texture, finishing with silky rich tannins.

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A NZ winemaker’s tip for your Christmas tipple Wed, 22 Dec 2010 20:45:19 +0000
By Simon Fell, Winemaker, Villa Maria Estate

Christmas is really a multicultural occasion with people celebrating the day in a multitude of different ways.  Consequently, it’s a challenging task to define the perfect Christmas dinner and wine match as it’s going to be different for everyone.

However with the generous selection of wines and wine styles on the market there are some real “gems” out there to match with the Christmas meal you choose.

Here in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is a summer celebration which generally revolves around beach BBQs, outdoor “al fresco” style entertaining, so Sauvignon Blanc and other fresh fragrant varieties, such as Riesling and Pinot Gris, are complementary wines to match with Christmas dinner.

Some suggested wine and food pairings for your Holiday feasts include:

Sauvignon Blanc
The Crisp vibrant palate of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with its acidic edge can certainly work well with the richer fattier white meats of chicken, pork or lobster. By the same token the minerally and flinty  qualities of Sauvignon Blanc work well with mildly acidic cheeses like Greek feta or extra sharp cheddars.

Dry Rieslings work well with a variety of seafood and white meats, such as turkey or goose.   My wife and I pair Villa Maria’s Private Bin Dry Riesling with one of our favourite Rick Stein recipes for leftover turkey; “Turkey salad with Vietnamese mint” (you may want to refer to his website

Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is great with many foods especially meats with mushroom based sauces. If you are having poultry, game, pork or veal match them with a light tasty aromatic Marlborough Pinot Noir which generally has characteristics of cherry and violet or if you prefer a  light bodied more earthier style try a Village AOC Burgundy, these can be great value without breaking your bank balance.

So whatever your wine and food choices this festive season, try to identify the flavours in either the food or wine and match accordingly.


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New Zealand Pinot Noir- a philosophy Mon, 20 Dec 2010 20:16:00 +0000

Pinot Noir over the past decade has become New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed red wine style.

Pinot Noir has overtaken Chardonnay and become number two for the most planted variety in New Zealand behind Sauvignon Blanc.  This represents a 900% growth since 1997.

At Villa Maria we have being championing this variety since the early 90s and now it has become our number one red wine within the Villa Maria Group portfolio. So what makes New Zealand Pinot Noir Unique? The answer lies in New Zealand’s great Terrior (climate, soil and people) along with it’s unique regional diversity.

New Zealand’s temperate and maritime climate is well suited for providing optimum conditions for ripening Pinot Noir. It’s old volcanic and clay soils offer low fertility and consistent water supply and the can do nature of the Kiwi winemaker produce Pinot Noirs with “ old world structure and New World fruit expression”.

The key characteristics of New Zealand Pinot Noir are the sum of these parts producing wines that are pure in fruit vibrancy and expression. They offer secondary characters of spice, dried herb and game. Their tannin structure is of elegance and Finesse.

The Key regions for New Zealand Pinot Noir are Marlborough, Central Otago, Martinborough, Waipara and Nelson, each providing their unique regional expression.


Villa Maria’s focus over the last decade has been in Marlborough where our award winning Pinot Noirs offer styles that are distinctive, expressive and of high quality.

Typical characteristics are of perfumed cherry, violets and exotic spices and displaying a texture of silk and velvet.

The future of New Zealand Pinot Noir looks promising. With maturing vines, optimum site selection for new plantings and continued fine tuning of vineyard and winemaking techniques, I believe we be continue to produce distinctive, expressive high quality wines from many localities.

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Oysters and NZ Sauvignon Blanc – a match made in heaven Thu, 16 Dec 2010 00:02:06 +0000


All of us who work hard to tell the world that the freshness and purity of New Zealand wines are a fabulous match with seafood are right. When I was in Singapore recently we held a Villa Maria dinner at the Greenwoods Fish market. Singapore is the hub of Asia for many travellers and the city state lives and breathes food, but this restaurant was a great choice to make. It was their busy oyster night and many of their guests experienced the fabulous marriage of pungent zesty New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with oysters and lobster.


The Greenwood fish market offered oysters form all over the world for this evening, Canada, France, Alaska. Sadly none made it from New Zealand, but the presence of our wine made up for it.
Here is the link to the Greenwood Fish Market Check it out and enjoy the Villa Maria seafood experience when you are next in Singapore .

Charlotte with Stephanie Rigoud, Sommelier at the Hilton Hotel

Owners of Standish wine store, Holland Village

Jimmy Lim, salesman from Villa Maria’s importer in Singapore, The Cellar Door*, about to match Villa Maria’s Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 with a lobby thermidor


* Villa Maria has been represented by The Cellar Door for many years and in addition to supplying restaurants and retailers directly they also have their own wine store where they have a wide range of wine and produce from New Zealand. The Singaporean wine market is interesting as over 80% of sales take place in restaurants which is the opposite of say the UK or NZ where over 80% of sales are from retail settings like supermarkets. With many wine importers and a small resident population of 5 million, competition is fierce and The Cellar Door do a great job to build the profile of New Zealand wine in Singapore. Check out



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Dinner in a Presidential Suite ( there is a first and last time for everything…) Tue, 14 Dec 2010 03:57:36 +0000

As I mentioned in my last piece on China, I have been so impressed with the ambition displayed in the cuisine at the various  food and wine matching dinners I have attended.  I went to a fairly ambitious building recently, the Crowne Plaza in Suzhou.  This is the city, a speedy one hour train trip from Shanghai, where the sailing took place for the Olympics. So if I tell you this hotel that edges the water was shaped like a ship you wouldn’t be surprised would you? 

Their effort continued at our Villa Maria wine dinner with it being held on the top floor in the opulent two storied presidential suite.  Only if the walls could have talked in that place!  The chef proudly came and presented every dish after I spoke about the matching wine.  He clearly has a love of music and angels.

A musical trio of appetitisers.  Seared tuna, Foie gras parfait with gold leaf (no less) and the most ginormous scallop I’ve seen in my life !


The final is fabulous – so many forms of chocolate where does one start.  I smuggled the angel home in a box and ate it at a low blood sugar moment rushing from one airport to the next.

Chocolate garnache, cake and mousse filled cone with a white chocolate angel dusted with Japanese green tea powder and garnished with pomegranates. 

My smuggled Angel



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A unique Waldorf Salad from Beijing – the perfect match to Villa Maria’s Cellar Selection Chardonnay Mon, 13 Dec 2010 04:50:49 +0000

Whilst on the topic of China, during my recent visit I was so impressed with the calibre of cuisine at the various Villa Maria promotional events I attended. 

In particular was a lunch I hosted in Beijing, a lunch for journalists at this most impressively designed restaurant called, Room.  It all starts when you walk through the bright pink library of a foyer and are surprised to see the book shelves are in fact the doors leading to the bathroom! 

Entrance to Room  

 Staff Member Exiting the Bathroom
As you walk through the restaurant which I’ve been told really starts humming in the evening with a resident DJ, the walls sport that same amazing modern, abstract art with even the odd hologram appearing.  We are seated in a private room graced with yet more fabulous paintings and after a brief introduction to my guests on the history of the New Zealand wine industry and the story behind Villa Maria – the food begins to arrive to match with the wines.  

Given the element of visual surprise with the décor it is only natural this twist flowed into the cuisine.  Pictured is the best presentation of a Waldorf salad I have ever seen.  Although this salad has stood the test of time first being created between 1893 and 1896 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City (the precursor of the Waldorf Astoria), this has a very modern twist  All the essential elements were present; the granny smith apple, walnuts, creamy mayonnaise with a touch of roquefrot cheese.  But it wasn’t this unsightly creamy mess as is often the case, but the flavours were incorporated into the still perfectly formed apple.

Wardorf Salad on left

I’m definitely going to plagiarise that recipe!  It was the best way to describe the various layers of flavour in our Cellar Selection Marlborough Chardonnay 08. The apple illustrates the malic acid freshness of the portion of the wine that doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation (MLF). The creamy Roquefort mayo shows an element of the softer lactic acid that results from the MLF, and the nuts illustrated the wine’s maturation in French oak barriques.  All it needed was a vanilla pod as a garnish (but that would have looked weird on a salad I guess). 

The mains were amazing, but I will fast forward to the finale – the smoking fruit tree.  I have never seen a fruit platter so spectacularly presented.  The picture speaks a thousand words.

The journalists who came from a wide variety of publications from Food and Wine, Madame Figaro, International Club, Lifestyle to Modern Weekly International, all had a great time.  I was most impressed on their sunny Saturday afternoon they chose to come and experience New Zealand wine from Villa Maria over a memorable lunch.  A visit to Room for anyone going to Beijing is a must.


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NZ winery makes its mark in China challenge Mon, 13 Dec 2010 04:30:59 +0000

We’ve recently received news of Villa Maria’s success at the China Sommeliers Wine Challenge held in Shanghai last month as part of Food and Hospitality China.

Winning gold medals in this show judged by these seriously talented international and Chinese Sommeliers is excellent news for us in the Chinese wine market.

New Zealand wine makes up just 1 percent of China’s imported wine market where Villa Maria works with one of the leading premium wine importers in the country,

2008 and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Chardonnay 2009. Noir Pinot 2010 and the Villa Maria Cellar Selection Riesling 2008 took gold medals whilst silver was given to Villa Maria Cellar Selection Blanc SauvignonBoth the Villa Maria Private Bin  Summergate Fine Wines and Spirits who were recipients of the best importer 2010 trophy at the same show.


For all the results of the show check out


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New Zealand wineries target China market Wed, 08 Dec 2010 22:24:41 +0000

There is huge growth potential for the wine industry in the China and already it is now the biggest market by value for Bordeaux. Although French wine reached Chinese consumers first and there is often an understanding that wine ought to be French, red and sealed with a cork; the white wine-driven nation of New Zealand whose wines are 95 percent sealed in a screw cap closure, are rising to the challenge to make themselves known to the increasingly curious Chinese consumers.

There is huge potential for New Zealand’s premium wines in China. Their hallmark purity of fruit and freshness are fabulous partners to the Chinese cuisine and due to their versatility can easily be matched to China’s varying regional styles.

The wines of the New World have yet to firmly establish their footprint, but Australia has already done a great job over the past few years. Combined, France and Australia occupy over 65 percent of the imported wine market, but there are many other wine producing nations working hard to earn their share of the pie – New Zealand being no exception.

It is still early days for the New Zealand Wine in China, occupying just 1 percent of China’s imported wine market – but we are growing fast! China is New Zealand wine’s largest export market in Asia as of this year. Exports to China in 2010 are likely to reach 2 million bottles (a growth of 65 percent over 2009) with a value of almost NZD$20 million (to the wineries). This growth has not come without its challenges; export regulations and controls, finding the right distribution, identifying target market segments, education of trade and consumers, and of course doing all of this to earn a profit.

One New Zealand winery that is turning its focus to the China market is Villa Maria, especially since the appointment of Charlotte Read, Villa Maria’s Asian market manager. 

Villa Maria’s wines are represented in the China market by Summergate Fine Wines and Spirits, one of the leading premium wine importers in the country. In fact Villa Maria was the first wine they launched their company with back in 2000. Ian Clark, Villa Maria’s PR & Export manager worked hard on the China market in those early days.

Initially we have focused on the cities of eastern seaboard of China, where demand for imported wine is growing as the educated middle-classes embrace more western tastes. However we can’t forget that some of the fastest growing sectors are the secondary and inland markets that are less affected by international economic conditions. Summergate Fine Wines, Villa Maria’s importer have their head office in Shanghai and also major offices in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau with plans to open more in the near future.

We are also fortunate that the New Zealand government successfully negotiated a Free Trade Agreement in 2008 that gives our wines a competitive advantage over other wine producing nations as it makes provisions for duties on NZ wine to fall to zero in 2012. Taking into account all duties, taxes and costs, this preferential duty means that a bottle of NZ wine has a 15-18 percent price advantage in real terms.

China is unlike any other market in the world. It requires research, patience and ongoing investment, but the rewards will be there for those who really commit, and this is Villa Maria’s intention. Our outlook for the future is that competition will continue to intensify, resulting in an explosion in new entrants (brands, importers, distributors, retailers). Whilst companies and brands can skyrocket from nowhere, they can equally crash and burn just as fast. Villa Maria are looking forward to a long successful future in China taking the steady route of hard work.


In these pictures: Villa Maria’s Asia Market Manager Charlotte Read

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Introducing our flagship wine Wed, 01 Dec 2010 20:49:04 +0000

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc

The Private Bin range is made with approachability in mind – award winning wines at value prices. Blended from a variety of vineyards across a region, these wines focus on producing consistency from one vintage to the next. 

Sauvignon Blanc is the back bone of the New Zealand wine industry, over 75% of exported wine from New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc. This variety also plays an important role within the Villa Maria portfolio. It is exported and loved by wine drinkers in more than 50 countries around the world. From the icy fiords of Norway to the tropical beaches of Vietnam, Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc can be enjoyed anywhere, on any occasion.The 2010 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc is a vivaciously scented wine with punchy ripe tropical fruit characters. Nettle dominated herbaceous aromas give way to citrus blossom and gooseberry. The palate has an appetizing fresh acidity with a myriad of juicy flavours. It is vibrant, zingy and delicious from the start.

 The unique climatic conditions of the Marlborough region have a fundamental influence on the consistent quality of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Warm days and cool nights give way to lively pungent aromatics supported by racy natural acidity. Consequently the 2010 harvest, with its cool start to summer and an extremely warm dry indian autumn produced exceptional fruit quality resulting in wines that are pristine and focused.


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The wines of Villa Maria Sun, 21 Nov 2010 23:04:05 +0000

Villa Maria offers an extensive range of wine so that there is something to make everyone smile. Villa Maria offers fours ranges to provide our drinkers with wines that match every occasion and budget.  But it can be a little confusing to the uninitiated as to when to choose which type of wine, when, so we aim to dispel any mystery now.

In addition to New Zealand’s major exports; Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, Villa Maria offers a generous array of other varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon . We’ve recently just launched an Arneis which historically regards Northern Italy as home.  This is an example of how Villa Maria prides itself in its innovation eagerness to try new things. 

Villa Maria was one of the first wineries in New Zealand to set aside their highest quality grapes to harness this superior quality as Reserve wines.  Today, Villa Maria offers fours ranges to provide our drinkers with wines that match every occasion and budget.  As you work your way up through the ‘ladder of quality’  the site selection is becoming more specific, until when you reach our exclusive Single Vineyard range where these wines have come from our best performing vineyards for that varietal in that year.  Like vintage champagne, they are only produced in the best years.

The freshness and purity of fruit characteristics that New Zealand wines are so acclaimed for are beautifully expressed in all Villa Maria’s highly awarded wines.

Villa Maria’s Wines Explained….

Private Bin  (Cream label)- fresh, fruit driven wines designed for every day drinking with or without food.  These are our most popular wines and are distributed to more than 50 countries around the world.

Cellar Selection (Gold Label) – From here up to the Single Vineyard range these wines are best enjoyed with Food.  Cellar section offers greater depth and fruit concentration compared to Private Bin.  Very versatile to match with a wide array of foods.

Reserve  (Black Label)– A special occasion wine.  When talking Sauvignon Blanc, think of Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc on steroids.  Perfect with a special occasion meal of oysters!  Its perfume is more intense and the body of the wine in your mouth is fuller and richer with a longer length.

Single Vineyard (Thin vertical black label) – Made in very limited quantities, this range of wine captures the French notion of terroir – where the unique site of the vineyard expresses itself to you in the glass.  Very elegant with a long lingering finish.  Often said to be so good you want to drink them solo!




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Introducing Charlotte Read Wed, 17 Nov 2010 22:23:44 +0000

Hi, I’m Charlotte Read, Villa Maria’s Asia Market Manager. I write this at 5.45am and sitting here in Hanoi airport waiting for my flight to Saigon.  Whilst I have one of the best jobs to be had at Villa Maria  – it does call for some pretty brief sleeps at times.

My role involves looking after 13 Asian countries including Dubai spanning across to Japan.  After five years based in London looking after our UK and European markets, I have recently returned to Auckland to look after the rapidly growing wine markets of Asia.  My region spans Dubai to Japan and involves meeting a fascinating array of people and experiencing different cultures.   My camera is full of diverse captivating images.  (Thankfully in Asia I get away with taking a ridiculous number of photos with not so much of a blink of an eye). The diversity of these countries and cultures makes for a challenging intellectually stimulating role to ensure Villa Maria is well poised to seize the opportunities for wines in each geography.

 It’s a great time to be working in wine in this region as there is an awakening to the wonders of beverages made from the humble grape.   Most countries are experiencing double digit growth in wine consumption, and the style of those hailing from New Zealand shores, are so well matched to the wide array of Asian cuisine; widespread use of seafood,chilli, ginger, soy, Asian herbs.   The aromatics of our most famous export, Sauvignon Blanc, are a fabulous pairing and already has a huge following around the region.  Much interest is also shown for our other aromatic styles; Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer despite Asia still largely being a red wine drinking continent.  For red wine lovers our perfumed elegant pinot noirs  are a great match with the popular dish of duck, and our fuller bodied Hawkes Bay Bordeaux blends and Syrah also are have an increasing following.

I’m currently on a breakneck three-week nine-city tour of Asia proselytising the great story of New Zealand’s most awarded winery, which is still proudly family owned.  I have visited our importers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Qingdao, Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hanoi and now I’m just about to complete my trip in Saigon.    It’s been a busy time of wine tastings, trainings, dinners, cocktail parties, media interviews and well as some strategic business meetings and market intelligence gathering.  However in all the rush I did manage to grab an hour to visit the Great Wall on the outskirts of Beijing.  Sometimes I do pinch myself that I can visit such places as part of this role.  I’ve now had the privilege of visiting over 30 countries promoting our great range of wines.  Never a day goes by when I don’t feel privileged to do so.

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Villa Maria: Vision, passion & determination Mon, 15 Nov 2010 04:04:07 +0000

The Villa Maria story is one of absolute passion. 100 percent New Zealand and family owned, Villa Maria Estate was founded in 1961 by George Fistonich who, through his dedication to quality, has led Villa Maria Estate to claim the title New Zealand’s Most Awarded Wines for more than 30 years.

George’s interest in winemaking started when New Zealand’s wine industry was virtually nonexistent. Passionate from a young age, wine was a central part of his upbringing. “Growing up, wine was always a part of my life. Being Croatian it is part of your blood,” says George.

He could not have imagined how far the New Zealand wine industry would progress in the years to come. Throughout the 1960s Villa Maria was a one-man band, with George’s wife, Gail, supporting him in his venture. He made dry red and white wines, sourcing grapes from the greater Auckland area. In the early 1970s he started to employ staff and the company began to expand rapidly. Today, Villa Maria employs close to 250 staff and export wine to more than 50 countries worldwide with our main export markets to date being the UK, Australia and the US, but increasingly Asia will be a major beneficiary of our wines in the years to come.

George’s award-winning success started with his very first vintage. He favourably recalls entering his first wines in the 1962 Royal Easter Show (New Zealand’s oldest and most established wine competition), where he received the second and third prize. This was in the days before gold, silver and bronze medals, when the competition only awarded the top three wines of the show.

Since the early 1980s Villa Maria has been New Zealand’s most award-winning winery, consistently winning prizes from both national and international competitions. George attributes the company’s success to his team’s absolute commitment and unrelenting passion to create the best wines possible. “Great wine starts with exceptional vineyards and exceptional people. If you have these foundations, you have the best chance of making the best wines.”

In the last 20 years, five of Villa Maria’s senior winemakers including George himself, have received a Winemaker of the Year award. Some, like current Group Winemaker, Alastair Maling MW, have received it more than once. In fact, Maling took top honours at the 2007 International Wine Challenge in London, beating tough international competition to be named White Winemaker of the Year. 

George is adamant that the company’s total commitment to quality has attracted the best people to work for Villa Maria throughout the years: “Being a family owned business, we are a very tight-knit team. Our winemakers have the opportunity to express their own flair here. We are not restrained by any limitations, unlike a lot of larger wineries around the world.”

The company’s focus, still driven by George, is to find the best vineyard sites and manage them expertly. Villa Maria was the first company in New Zealand to employ professional viticulturists, recognising the part viticulture plays in the quality of the wine. Villa Maria sources grapes from company owned vineyards and contract growers in some of the best sites in leading grape growing regions; Marlborough and Waipara in the South Island, and Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Auckland in the North Island.

George does not believe in change for the sake of it but is recognised as one of the true innovators of the New Zealand wine industry. When Villa Maria started producing wine with screwcaps from the 2000 vintage, the wines’ superiority was quickly noted. Villa Maria was the first wine company in New Zealand to declare the winery a “cork-free zone”, sealing all wines from the 2002 vintage onwards with a screw cap. It was a bold move for George who took the risk of losing overseas business by declining to fill orders from companies who requested wines sealed under cork. For George it came down to quality, something he has never been willing to compromise on.

George’s passion to create wines of exceptional quality has driven Villa Maria Estate to gain a strong reputation around the world. In 2004 he was named New Zealander of the year by the prestigious National Business Review. In 2005 he received the DCNZM (equivalent to a knighthood under the previous Queen’s honours system) and in 2009 he received his knighthood for his outstanding service to the New Zealand wine industry. He was named the 2005 New Zealand Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and was short listed as one of 50 most prominent figures in the wine industry by the United Kingdom’s Wine International Magazine.

George urges that while the awards and recognition are nice, this has never been his focus: “These successes come from making quality the focus. If you are determined from the onset that you will not compromise on this, then you will never lose sight of what your purpose is about.”


Keep following this blog for more on Villa Maria’s people, wines and journey into Asia.


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