Don Kavanagh toasts one of this country's most successful wineries.
Many words have been written over the past month or so about Villa Maria, and rightly so.
Celebrating its 50th vintage, this company continues to set the bar for New Zealand wine at home and abroad and, although others have written far more eloquently than I could, I may as well throw in my own few cents' worth.
For me, Villa Maria is not just about Sir George Fistonich and his great crusade to make good wine here and keep the company under family control. It's not about the heroic financial struggles, the expansions, the medals or the trophies. For me, it's all about the wine.
I sat down with Sir George recently and the one word he used over and over throughout our chat was "quality". And that's what Villa has always been about; even back when they were producing only fortified wines of a sort unlikely to seduce the casual modern wine drinker.
These days, Villa Maria's portfolio is huge. With a Private Bin range, a Cellar Selection range, reserves and single vineyard wines, it's hard enough to keep track, and that's without going into the different varietals and the associated wineries, like Esk Valley, Vidal, Thornbury and Te Awa.
Pick up a bottle of any of these and you can be sure you're getting a well-made wine that will be consistently good.
The lower-tier Private Bin range is one of the best value flights of wine you can buy, while more expensive wines are proportionally rewarding.
Villa Maria is the most-awarded winery in the country, regularly picking up gold medals and trophies and, though that has been reassuring for the consumer, there has been a fair bit of back-biting from wine snobs as well. Some dismiss the wines as industrial, merely commodities to be sold as quickly as possible, and others sneer that Villa Maria is too big to be a truly artisanal winemaker.
That's all absolute rubbish, of course. The company may be big, but the wines are still made with care and attention. The level of attention to vines and vineyard care, the selection of blocks of grapes within vineyards and the overall ethos of quality first, mean that Villa Maria is effectively a micro winery that simply operates on a macro scale.
With summer approaching (he says, hopefully) there aren't too many labels I can recommend with as much confidence. Grab a bottle of Villa Maria, sit back and enjoy it. You won't be disappointed.By Don Kavanagh