Pioneering winemaker Joseph Soler of Wanganui made his mark on the world stage winning six prizes at the Melbourne International Exhibition.

Soler, a Spaniard who had anglicised his original name Jose Sole, had come to Wanganui in the late 1860s and set up his winery.

"He earned a living growing small fruits and vegetables while the vines established and was content to wait seven or eight years before releasing each vintage for sale," writes Dick Scott in Pioneers of New Zealand Wine.

"Word soon passed as to the quality of his product and before long he was shipping to discerning buyers all over New Zealand."

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Soler won many other international awards including in 1886 at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. A correspondent to the Herald reported that until he had tasted them he did not think it possible to produce such wines in New Zealand.

Soler's success was among the first hints of great possibilities for the New Zealand wine industry, which is now world-renowned with exports worth more than $1 billion every year.

His contribution to the industry is commemorated in Villa Maria's Joseph Soler organic vineyard in Hawkes Bay which produces 15 varieties of grape and supplies, among others, the Vidal winery which was established by Soler's nephew Anthony Vidal.

For his founding role in a great industry, Joseph Soler is the Herald's New Zealander of the Year for 1880.

Further reading:
'Our Iberian heritage', Craggy Range