With little prospect for the future, 14-year-old Josip Babich left his home country in 1910 to join his brothers digging for Kauri gum on the other side of the world. He never saw his parents again.
Mick and Katé Brajkovich adventurously left their home country in 1937 to seek a better future. In 1944 they had earned enough money to purchase land and plant vines and establish roots in undiscovered territory.
George Fistonich leased 5 acres of land from his father in 1961 and produced his first wine in 1962, taking the first steps in turning a dream into a vision for future generations.
Babich, Brajkovich, Fistonich … all three families are of Croatian descent, from the Dalmation Islands, to be exact. Perhaps it was initially hardship and adventurous spirit, but it was the hardworking nature and connectedness to the land of these Dalmation immigrants that led them to farming grapes and making wine.
“Dallies”, as they are now affectionately called, have dominated wine cultivation in the Auckland area of New Zealand for the past century. The names of their wineries, Babich, Kumeu River, and Villa Maria top the Who’s Who list of New Zealand wine producers today.
The first wines made were fortified, made in the style of Sherry or Port, as was the fashion of the time. The immigrants of ex-Yugoslavia made table wines for their own consumption, wines closer to the style of their central European heritage. Times were difficult for them during the temperance era. The puritan bourgeoisie spoke of “Dali plonk”. Luckily, times have changed.
The wine business has been the livelihood of three Babich family generations. From humble beginnings, they have grown from a regional producer to an international ambassador for New Zealand, now exporting wines to 30 different countries. In 2016, the Babich Winery will celebrate its 100th anniversary, a milestone not only for the Babich family, but for the yet young New Zealand wine industry.
Mick and Katé’s son Maté grew up tending vines in West Auckland was soon enthusiastic about the budding New Zealand wine industry. His enthusiasm infected his wife Melba and his children. After his untimely death in 1992, Melba went on to become one of New Zealand’s most experienced and knowledgeable women in the industry as the matriarch of the Kumeu River wine estate. Maté’s son, Michael studied oenology at Roseworthy in Australia and became a Master of Wine. He now manages the estate with the support of his mother and other siblings. Kumeu River is certainly one of the world’s leading Chardonnay producers outside of Burgundy, France
George Fistonich grew up in an immigrant Croatian farming family in New Zealand where wine was a part of the daily culinary lifestyle. Instead of continuing the mixed agriculture tradition, young George sought to concentrate on wine cultivation. His achievements are astounding. He and his wines have achieved numerous accolades, but his greatest honour to date came in 2009. He received knighthood and the prestigious title of Sir George Fistonich from the Queen for his services to the New Zealand wine industry. He was also inducted to the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame for services to the New Zealand wine industry and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Wine Challenge Awards in London.
At the beginning of 2012 George was honoured with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal at the 59th Royal Easter Show Wine Awards for his achievements in the New Zealand wine industry. 2012 also marked an exceptional milestone in George’s career: his 50th vintage, celebrating 50 years of exceptional winemaking.
Rex and Maria Sunde are also descendants of Croatian immigrants. Rex is a viticulturist and operates a grape vine nursery. He and his wife Maria thought it would be fun to make their own wines. Their customers and friends thought it would be great if they would serve food as well. They now operate Artisan Winery and Restaurant in West Auckland and their quirky assortment of wines and regional dishes vary according to the year and the season. They are also the convivial hosts of the fabulous Oratia Farmer’s Market and the yearly “Dallies in the Valley” festival that celebrates the history, culture, music, food and wine of the West Auckland community.
A celebration of the Dallie community in West Auckland with great wine, food, dance and music. Local and organic wines and Hawkes Bay Independant Breweries.
Where: Artisan Wines, 99 Parrs Cross Rd, Auckland
Restrictions: All Ages
Phone Sales: 0800 BUY TIX (289 849)