Guardian of New Zealand Wine, Sir George Fistonich Launches Čuvar Winery


With his inspiring energy and lifelong dedication to pioneering progression in the wine industry, Čuvar is the vision of legendary wine entrepreneur, Sir George Fistonich. Sir George founded Čuvar Winery to help preserve and nurture the essence of New Zealand fine wine.

“To honour this, our name, Čuvar, (pronounced chu-var) translates to guardian in Croatian. Čuvar pays homage to the Croatian wine & viticultural pioneers and many others, who played an important part in shaping what New Zealand’s wine story is today.” Says Sir George. Sir George’s identity as part of an immigrant family contributed to his own spirit of determination, tenacity and good humour. The principles that drove him to push boundaries then – hard work, high standards, foresight and progress are the values he seeks to instil in new generations of wine industry custodians, makers and hospitality leaders. George Fistonich was just 21 when he decided carpentry wasn’t his future and instead began to lease one hectare of family vineyard in Mangere in 1961, making wines under the name Villa Maria. What started with 1 hectare of leased family vineyard, became a globally recognised brand, with accolades and distinctions, industry awards, exports and a Knighthood for services to New Zealand wine and hospitality industries.

Visually Čuvar is represented by the Iris, Croatia’s national flower. “The heart of the Iris is depicted in our logo and reflects our commitment to circular principles – the guardianship of people, the planet and holistic prosperity.” Says Sir George. Čuvar has two wine collections, the Iris Collection and the Guardians Collection. Our Guardians Collection is inspired by traditional Croatian tattoos.

Our bespoke designs depict the ‘Kolo’, a Croatian village dance and are inspired by New Zealand native plants, a nod to our commitment to collective kaitiakitanga” Says Sir George. At the helm of winemaking is the talented Michelle Richardson, who has a long history with Sir George. Michelle has the rare ability of being able to interpret the beauty of a country, region, vineyard or single row in the vibrancy of the wines she creates.

The home of Čuvar Winery will be in Hawkes Bay beside the terraced vines Sir George himself planted three decades ago, formerly Esk Valley Winery. While the site is not open to the public yet, Sir George, who made history by opening the very first winery restaurant in New Zealand in 1979 (Vidal’s of Hastings), has inspirational plans for the site. “Our vision is spacious, sun-drenched patios overlooking the terraced vines and the Pacific Ocean. Beautiful spaces will be available to host intimate or large weddings and corporate events. We have plans to build walking and cycle tracks around the site” Says Sir George. The investment into the Hawke Bay wine and tourism sector is being welcomed as one of the biggest in decades thanks to Sir George’s unwavering passion for the New Zealand wine industry. As the site takes shape expect more exciting news of opening dates in 2024.

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