Villa Maria was founded in 1961 by George Fistonich, only 21 years of age, in Mangere in South Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. He planted 1 acre of land leased from his Croatian parents who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1926. Many Croatian's emigrated to New Zealand after WW2 and, coming from a country with a long tradition of winemaking, they planted their own vineyards and made their own wine which they liked to drink with their meals. George completed an apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery but did not want to work in these trades, much to the disappointment of his father From a young age George had helped tend the family's vineyards. So, wishing to be a winemaker, and with a borrowed home-made grape crusher made out of an old mangle, that was what he did. He named his business Villa Maria because Maria was an international name and Villa sounded European. This was a time when New Zealand was very much a beer drinking country, and the popular wines then were fortified sherry and port styles - but George believed that good quality table wines were the future. The Croatian culture always embraced food with wine. In 1979 George's winery was the first in New Zealand to open a restaurant, with the Prime Minster of the country at the time, Robert Muldoon attending the opening. It nearly all ended in 1985 due to continuous low prices in the wine industry, and Villa Maria entered receivership. But luck was on George's side when Villa Maria won all three trophies open to New Zealand wines at the Australian Wine Awards, and by the end of 1986 Villa Maria was trading profitably again. George was knighted in 2009 for services to the New Zealand wine industry: the first to be acknowledged for services to the industry. Villa Maria remains family-owned, and that 1 acre has now grown to include vineyards and wineries throughout New Zealand in four different regions: Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough and Auckland. That home-made grape crusher has has been replaced by state-of-the-art equipment and cutting edge technologies. In 2009 the Auckland site was the first winery in New Zealand to achieve BioGro status. Because of cork taint, and oxidisation, in 2001 Villa Maria made the move to bottle all their wines under screwcap to ensure consistent high quality. This was a controversial move at the time and the winery received many abusive letters, especially from the USA, and their wines were de-listed from many restaurant's wine lists. In the end though George managed to convince customers of his decision, and the Villa Maria wines were listed again. An array of grape varieties are cultivated to produce Villa Maria's six tiers of wines: Private Bin are easy-drinking, flavourful fruit-driven wines. Cellar Selection are intensely-flavoured food friendly wines. Earth Garden are an organic range. The Reserve range is highly awarded - these are wines for the discerning connoisseur, only made in the best vintages. The Single Vineyard wines offer unique terroir-driven expressions from their finest sites. The Icon wines are the pinnacle of the range, and include the Burgundian Attorney Pinot Noir and Keltern Chardonnay. Their flagship Bordeaux blends, the outstanding Ngakirikiri “The Gravels” wines, are only produced in the most exceptional vintages. Villa Maria offer something for every palate and every pocket. They have been New Zealand's most awarded winery for over 30 consecutive years. This indeed is testament to the quality of Sir George Fistonich's wines which shines in every bottle, true to his original concept: “Above all we want to make wines that everyone can enjoy everywhere”.