The story starts in the village of Umljani in Dalmatia where Josip’s parents Petar and Iva Babic decided to send six of their teenage sons into the wide world in the hope of better lives. Josip and his brother Stipan left Dalmatia in February 1910 to join their brothers Jakov, Mate and Ivan who arrived in New Zealand earlier. The Babic brothers joined a population of gum diggers in the Far North. There they established a family business that grew into a provisions store and then a gum broking based in Auckland.
The Babich story takes another step with Josip’s sons Peter and Joe joining the business in 1948 and 1958 respectively. From the founding of the business, the company saw through a remarkable history which included Prohibition, the Second World War, the struggle for acceptance of wine as a beverage and the change from primarily fortified wine production to table wine making. Peter, and Joe in particular raised the level of technical quality of their wines, so that Babich became very highly regarded. Sister Maureen also became fully involved in company administration.
From the late 1990s, Peter Babich decided to reduce his wine involvement, remaining as chairman, with Joe stepping up to general manager. Neill Culley took a greater role in business and as chief winemaker, and introduced Adam Hazeldine, who joined the company in 1996, who would eventually become senior winemaker on Culley’s departure in 2001. In 2001, Peter’s son David came to Babich Wines as assistant general manager. Other members of the Babich family are closely connected to the business, and it will not be surprising to see their greater involvement.
I’ve spent much of this review highlighting the important markers for Babich Wines since its inception over a century ago. I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the stories that the book covers and which can be told. The authors have shown their understanding of the Babich history with plenty of detail, demonstrating the thorough research, as well as their four decade connection with the family. Their writing style is historically based, but is very readable due to their capture of the personalities of the people.
David Ling Publishing Ltd, Auckland, 2015, ISBN 978-1-927305-10-2