“We wine lovers forget that so much of grape growing and so much of winemaking is sweat and blood and endless commitment and endless long hours,” says wine writer Oz Clarke in “Vintage,” a new documentary. The film, now on Amazon Prime, goes behind the scenes of New Zealand’s Villa Maria winery, following the hectic final weeks of the 2019 harvest. As Clarke says, “It’s not a glorious occupation most of the year, but it is really worth it.”
Moving beyond the expected shots of lush, sun-kissed vineyards and close-ups of dewy grapes, the feature-length documentary introduces key (increasingly sleep-deprived) members of Villa Maria’s team who come together to make the final product possible.
Along with founder-owner Sir George Fistonich (and a few familiar faces from the wine world, including Master Sommelier Brian McClintic), “Vintage” follows chief winemaker Nick Picone, experienced viticulturists Stu Dudley and Ollie Powrie, and viticulture intern Jess Marston, in the midst of her first vintage, to give an insider’s look at the all-consuming process of making wine.
“’Vintage’ is fast-paced and it’s chaotic because it all has to happen in a really short window of time,” says Nick Picone. “You’ve got so many tons of grapes to process, [but] you’ve only got so many hours in the day, you’ve only got so many days in the season in which to pick the fruit, to move it into the winery, to make all the wine decisions, to carry the winemaking out and to get the right results.”
While plenty of wineries would be interesting subjects for such a documentary, Villa Maria’s longevity — Fistonich started in 1961 — its leadership when it comes to sustainability, and its award-winning wines from all of the best corners of the country are just a few reasons it’s particularly deserving of the camera’s eye.
A START IN THE CITY
New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, holds special significance for Villa Maria. It was there, in 1961, that 21-year-old native George Fistonich decided to invest in his passion for winemaking, and leased a small portion of land from his father in Mangere, a suburb of Auckland. He planted his first acre of vines and Villa Maria was born.
As seen in “Vintage,” Fistonich has truly been the godfather of New Zealand wine ever since. In 2009, Fistonich was even knighted for his stellar contributions to the New Zealand wine industry over the last six decades. Even though it’s grown exponentially since its start, Villa Maria is still family-owned and today, that small Mangere plot (still an important part of the Villa Maria story) has expanded to nearly 100 acres of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Verdelho vines.
Villa Maria continues to run a winery in Auckland, but it has two other facilities, enabling it to be closer to its vineyards in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay.
A DIVERSE LANDSCAPE
One of the largest wineries in New Zealand sources its 28 grape varieties from the country’s premier grape- growing regions in both the North and South Islands, including Hawkes Bay (the winery owns a large portion of the esteemed Gimblett Gravels region), Gisborne, and Marlborough.
While the winery reliably produces outstanding varietal wines from Albariño to Pinot Noir, Villa Maria’s role in elevating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to its world-famous standing has been substantial. “Vintage” highlights the cool, dry Marlborough region where the vast majority of Sauvignon Blanc, including Villa Maria’s Private Bin Marlborough and the limited-release Platinum Selection Sur Lie, is produced. Viticulturist Stu Dudley takes viewers into the vineyards and through the rugged terrain as he keeps close watch over the harvest while struggling to remain connected to his young family.
A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Always innovating, taking the lead when it comes to environmental concerns is a priority at the Villa Maria winery and the results of that dedication are on display in “Vintage,” too. “I really love the idea of organic sustainability,” says Nick Picone. “When I walk into one of our organic blocks and notice the increase in life in that vineyard block, I feel good about that — about that fruit, about tasting that fruit, about being in that environment, about making wine from that fruit.”
Currently, 30 of Villa Maria’s company-owned vineyards are certified organic and it was the first major New Zealand winery to receive organic certification for its winery and bottling facilities in Auckland in 2009. However, the company’s commitment to eco-friendly practices began nearly 15 years earlier when it cofounded Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand. This certification program recognizes wineries that use 100 percent certified grapes and in 100 percent certified winemaking facilities. Since then, Villa Maria continues to move the bar forward with both its wines and winemaking practices by investing in energy-efficient systems, harnessing natural energy, ensuring that food waste goes to worm farms for fertilizer, opting for locally supplied glass, and by using recyclable materials and electric machinery.
“Vintage” is available in the U.S. and U.K. via Amazon Prime. It is also available globally on iTunes, Google Play, SommTV, and Vimeo On Demand. Passengers on Air New Zealand will also be able to watch the film via the airline’s in-flight entertainment system. Check out the trailer below!
This article is sponsored by Villa Maria.