Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Visionary wine pioneer begins new brand at 82

Sir George Fistonich’s life in wine bears more than a passing resemblance to a rags to riches story. Its humble beginnings were on a one hectare, family owned vineyard in Mangere in 1961 and he has since founded Villa Maria Wines, started New Zealand’s first winery restaurant (at Vidals in Hawke’s Bay), developed long term relationships with winemakers and viticulturists, spear headed innumerable wine brands, won arguably more awards for the wines his company produced than any other winery in New Zealand. And, in the second half of this year, he began a new winery at the age of 82. The new brand is called Čuvar and is situated in Hawke’s Bay where winemaker Michelle Richardson has taken up the helm of winemaking for him again; she worked for him at Villa Maria Wines many years ago. 

The brand is part of Fistonich Family Vineyards and the name Čuvar (pronounced chur-var) is Croatian for guardian, paying homage to the Croatian wine pioneers who played an important role in forming the New Zealand’s wine story today,” says Sir George, whose own immigrant family instilled a strong work ethic in him. 

There are two wine collections made by Čuvar; the Iris Collection and the Guardians Collection; the artwork for which was inspired by traditional Croatian tattoos.

The home of Čuvar Winery will be in Hawke’s Bay beside the terraced vines that Sir George planted three decades ago on the slopes north of Bayview in Napier where the original Esk Valley Winery was. 

The site is not open to the public yet, but Sir George says he his vision is to create a spacious, sun drenched patio area, overlooking the terraced vines and the Pacific Ocean. 

“We have plans to build walking and cycle tracks around the site and as it takes shape, we expect to share more exciting news of opening dates in 2024.” 

  • Fistonich Family Vineyards also launched Oblix wines this year as well as the Čuvar range.