Hawke's Bay winemaker Nick Picone has been appointed chief winemaker for the Villa Maria Group, with chief executive Sir George Fistonich describing the 37-year-old as a "shining star" of the New Zealand wine industry.
Mr Picone said he was proud to take on the role and agreed it was a long way from when he started pursuing a grape and wine certificate at the EIT back in 1996 - where after one month he knew he wanted to be a winemaker rather than a viticulturist.
He went on to complete a three-year degree in the science of winemaking. "It's a bit daunting but it is really exciting," he said.
"I've been with Villa Maria for 18 years and with the experience I had in the regions I've worked in, and knowing the great teams of people we have, I realised I was in a position to accept the responsibility."
His new role will see him overseeing not just Villa Maria's wines, but also Riverstone, Wise Owl, Thornbury and the three Hawke's Bay wineries under the company's umbrella - Te Awa Collection, Esk Valley and Vidal Estate.
"It is essentially co-ordinating the winemaking over the whole group - working closely alongside the winemakers in terms of styles and qualities."
It will mean plenty of travel, especially to Marlborough which produces about 75 per cent of Villa Maria's output.
But he said he was pretty used to commuting now.
He and his wife and family had been in Auckland for several years where he had been based but moved back to the Bay in January and he was now commuting from Napier to Auckland for his commitments there.
Sir George was full of praise for Mr Picone.
"He is an extremely talented winemaker with an exceptional palate and has demonstrated a natural ability with wine right from the start of his career."
He said fostering talent in the wine industry was something he was passionate about and was proud of the way Mr Picone honed his skills while working across the country's wine regions.
"Throughout our 54-year history my focus has always been on creating the highest quality wines and we have achieved this through selection of the best vineyard sites and seeking out the very best people - and Nick is without doubt one of New Zealand's shining stars."
Mr Picone, who was born in Napier, said his passion for wine came from his father Vince who ran winery tours which he would often go along on.
He said he became captivated by the "mystique and magic" which went into creating a fine wine.
His first winery experience was at Esk Valley.
"You start at the very start and stick with it - scrubbing the tanks and cleaning the floors," he said.
A stint in Marlborough followed before he shifted to Auckland and in 2006 he spent time working for Villa Maria's international distributor Hatch Mansfield in the UK.
He followed that by working through a vintage at GD Vajra in Barolo, Italy, and also had a taste of the Californian winemaking scene, completing two vintages with DeLoach Vineyards.
"It's a very optimistic time for the whole industry because we have had several great vintages," Mr Picone said. "And it's great to be back in the Bay."