New Zealand has been making wines since the 1850s, but the modern wine industry in New Zealand began in the mid-20th century and expanded rapidly in the early 21st century with the sustainable practices and modern winemaking techniques.

Recently, I attended a Snooth virtual tasting with Co-Founder and Chief Taster Mark Angelillo from Snooth and Villa Maria winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec.  Kathrin was a teacher in Germany who decided to take a break and travel the world.  She landed in New Zealand about a dozen years ago, and she was running low on money.  She found a job working harvest at a small winery and realized her passion. “I decided this is what I want to do with my life… I’m going to make wine. I’m not leaving New Zealand,” she said.

Villa Maria wines have always been steadfast and true in my experience.  They were good, inexpensive and classic takes on what New Zealand wines should be. But I hadn’t before tasted the single-vineyard wines from Taylors Pass, especially the Pinot Noirs and the rosé, and wow.  Good juice.

First, the story of Villa Maria Winery.  It was a one man, one-acre band.  George Fistonich started the winery in 1961, at the age of 21, with one acre of vines in Auckland.  In 1962, he harvested the grapes and produced the wines under the name of Villa Maria.  Villa Maria remained a one-man operation through the 60s, hiring its first staff in the early 70s, and now employs 250 people, exporting their wines to the 50 countries.

Villa Maria has vineyards located in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough regions. The grapes range from New Zealand’s well known varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to Arneis and Verdelho. Villa Maria is all about the screw top in all wines.

We tried several wines:

  • 2018 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc – Refreshing, lightly carbonated and fun.  I tasted notes of grass, melon, currant, lime and a nice minerality.
  • 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc – lime, stone fruit, passion fruit, citrus, melon and herbs.
  • 2016 Villa Maria Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc – I tasted green notes, citrus, lemongrass, cilantro, grapefruit and minerality.
  • 2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé – this Merlot-based dry rosé has notes of rose petals, strawberry, candied fruits and was one of my favorites of the night.
  • 2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir – notes of cherries, violet, cranberry, spice, mocha, and earth.  It was Burgundian like and I enjoyed it completely.
  • 2015 Villa Maria Taylors Pass Pinot Noir –Notes of herbs, ripe plums and blueberries, earth, oak, violets, graphite and mocha. This was my favorite of the night!

These Pinots were much more powerful than I expected.

If you want to follow along with the virtual tasting, click here.