Villa Maria tale makes fine reading

23:00, Dec 06 2012

Christmas comes but once a year and just before it a small fleet of new books designed for holiday reading, or, and here's an even better idea - for Christmas giving, especially to those with special interests.

Like wine, for instance.

This year at least four books that should appeal to people with such an interest have recently hit the shelves and all are by New Zealand writers, which makes them even more relevant.

None more so than The Winemaker ($45, published by Random House) a book that celebrates the 50 eventful years that Sir George Fistonich and Villa Maria, the company he created, have been in the business of producing wine.

Because these years roughly correspond with the second coming of the wine industry in New Zealand the Sir George and Villa story is, in essence, a personalised history of winemaking's transformation from cottage industry into one of our most vibrant and successful.

What makes it a story worth telling, and author Kerry Tyack does it well, is the determination, the vision and the sheer audacity of a Croatian immigrant's son who took over the business his father started in the basement of their family home in Mangere and went for broke.


And in the process that is exactly what happened. He did go broke, but fought his way back to create a wine empire which now includes, under the Villa umbrella, the Vidal, Esk Valley and Thornbury labels.

It is a truly fascinating look at a modern-day pioneer who continues to set new standards for an industry to which he has already given much. Not to mention some damned fine wines.

Sir George also features in another new book which includes other "movers, shakers and groundbreakers of the New Zealand Wine Industry," a group of men and women described by author Joelle Thomson as The Wild Bunch ($39.99, published by New Holland).

It is a collection of 19 potted biographies based on interviews done by Thomson with people such as Michael Brajkovich of Kumeu River, Gordon Russell of Esk Valley, James Millton of The Millton Vineyard, Kevin Judd, ex-Cloudy Bay, and others.

They talk not only about their lives and times, but about such things as their favourite tipples, greatest achievements . . . even the wines they would take to a desert island.

Thanks to Thomson's, easy, chatty style it makes excellent reading.

Perfect for the holidays.

Likewise a fun little book - Vinacular, A Wine Lover's A-Z ( $25, published by Awa) - written by John Saker and illustrated by Scott Kennedy.

As Saker says at the beginning, the aim is not to de-code the language of wine but, as with a glass of wine, by the end of it to make you happier than you were at the beginning. It will.

The fourth book on the list fulfils a completely different function.

It is, of course, the 21st (2013) edition of Michael Cooper's Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wine ($39.99, published by Hodder Moa) which has become an absolute must for anyone with an interest in wine, or an interest in developing one. And I mean anyone.

This year the chunky guide runs to 670 pages, features 3260 wines, all tasted and rated by Cooper, and introduces two varieties new to this country - Barbera and Marsanne. It also contains some labels which are news even to me.

But a couple of things come as no surprise. And that is Cooper's annual selection of his best red and white wines.

The white: Spy Valley 2011 Marlborough Chardonnay (about $20) which he describes as a steal.

The red: Bannock Brae Estate Goldfields Central Otago Pinot Noir (under $30) which he calls outstanding.

The Southland Times