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90 years of winemaking

The 2006 vintage will be a very special one for Babich Wines as it celebrates 90 years of winemaking this year.

In 1916, when New Zealand’s wine industry was in its infancy, Josip Babich produced his first wine. Today, Babich Wines is one of New Zealand’s largest family-run wineries producing 13 different varietals as well as blends. It is a key player in New Zealand’s well-respected wine industry with a reputation for producing world-class wines enjoyed in more than 25 countries.

Joe Babich, long acclaimed as one of New Zealand’s most talented and respected winemakers and wine judges, originally joined his father and brother Peter in the family business in 1958 as chief winemaker. Today, aged 65, Joe is the managing director of Babich Wines, though still actively involved in the winemaking. His brother Peter is the chairman and Peter’s son David is the general manager and the third generation of the Babich family to join the business.

Joe Babich puts the company’s success down to a number of reasons: “Our winemaking philosophy is to have the right vineyards, in the right regions on superior sites, and getting the right varieties on those superior sites.” While this may sound fairly logical, it is an evolving process that has taken almost a century of winemaking.

Although Babich Wines’ headquarters and high-tech winery remain at the original West Auckland site, Babich also has shares in a Marlborough winemaking facility and owns a number of vineyards around the country strategically placed to get the best out of each variety.

They were one of the first companies to discover the now famous winemaking region of Gimblett Gravels in the Hawkes Bay. Babich Wines’ 1985 Irongate Chardonnay, from the Gimblett Gravels region, caused a stir in New Zealand’s wine industry and attracted attention from as far away as the UK — very rare for a New Zealand wine at the time.

Today over 90% of Babich Wines produced are exported around the world, with the biggest markets being the USA, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. The Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc leads the way into these export markets but other varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling are gaining momentum.

Looking to the future, Joe predicts that further rationalisation will occur within the New Zealand wine industry. Currently over 90% of New Zealand’s wine industry is owned by international companies and Joe suspects the big players will get stronger.

Despite being approached by big international companies looking to add the Babich brand to their portfolio, the Babich family has resisted and is determined to continue to do so.

“It is a way of life for us. Wine has always been a part of the family and some of my earliest memories are playing hide and seek among wine barrels as a young boy with my brother, sisters and cousins. Today, at the age of 65, I still have as much enthusiasm for producing wine as ever before,” said Joe Babich.

And regardless of the size or scale of the operation, Babich Wines today still adheres to Josip’s original words of wisdom – ‘provide the customer with value for money’, ‘never take them cheaply’ and ‘remember that the customer is always right’.

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