Wednesday, 22 October 2014 08:02

Villa Maria’s $30m Plan

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Villa Maria is very close to finalising plans for a $30m winery and vineyard development on its Te Awa site west of Hastings.

 The family-owned company is working through the building’s functional and structural design, especially for wine tanks, before seeking final resource consent sign-off from the Hastings District Council. 

The staged development will be progressed in line with demand.  “Given the existing capacity within the group, we are comfortable to build the first stage in 2016,” says executive director Fabian Yukich.  

In what will be a significant investment for owner Sir George Fistonich, the first stage is expected to cost $15 million, and the same amount is earmarked for future stages and vineyard development.  

The expansion is aimed at meeting growing demand for Villa Maria’s Hawke’s Bay-grown wines, particularly red wines from the Gimblett Gravels into Asia and also wines from its organic vineyards.

Although Villa Maria is “extremely happy” with the quality of its Hawke’s Bay wines, Yukich says the new winery will definitely help in lifting them to another level, particularly in challenging vintages where quick turn-arounds for grape transport can be crucial.  

“From a quality perspective it makes sense to crush and ferment the grapes in a winery right next to the vineyards.”

Villa Maria has about 400 hectares within 10kms of the Te Awa site opposite Roys Hills on Highway 50.  

The company has been active in the Hawke’s Bay region since the 1970s, with Vidal Estate and Esk Valley Estate continuing to operate as boutique wineries.  Yukich says Villa Maria expects they will retain their individual identities.  

“Winemakers Gordon Russell at Esk Valley and Hugh Crichton at Vidal Estate have evolved their respective wine styles over quite a period of time.”

In more recent years, the company has built up its portfolio west of Hastings, including Te Awa winery and its 50ha vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels.

Terra Vitae also has established vineyards flanking Highway 50, west of the Bridge Pa Triangle at Maraekakaho, supplying Villa Maria.  

Te Awa Farm, as the winery was originally known, was founded by the Lawson family and the design of the cellar door and restaurant takes its lead from Hawke’s Bay’s rural architecture.

The business was renamed Te Awa after its purchase by American tycoon Julian Robertson, who sold it to Villa Maria last year.

Yukich says Te Awa will continue to be a landmark for the region’s wine tourism.  

“The final outcome will complement rather than clash with the rustic Hawke’s Bay ambience.  

“When we bought the winery, it already had a renowned wedding and corporate function business.  We definitely see this continuing – in fact, with the return of chef Stephen Tindall the winery restaurant is really growing.”  

Villa Maria has been extremely positive about the future of the Hawke’s Bay winegrowing region for many years and it continues to be so, says Yukich.  

“The increased demand
for red wines in Asia and
the amazing results we have had in our wine shows, not only for Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet red wines and Syrahs, but also our Chardonnays, reinforce this positive view.” 

New varieties such as Arneis are also showing promise in the Hawke’s Bay climate.

“This new winery is about creating a better operational facility close to our grapegrowers, much the same as we have done in Marlborough over the last decade and a half.”

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