In New Zealand’s relatively young wine industry a 100 year anniversary is a great achievement and one that definitely needs celebrating.
Babich, one of New Zealand’s most iconic wineries reached this special milestone this year and decided to celebrate by sharing 100 stories of their 100 year journey so that you can find our more about their special journey!
Let’s have a look at how it all began…
A LEAP OF FAITH THAT BUILT A LEGACY
At home in Croatia, the future held little for the six Babich brothers. Despite knowing little about New Zealand, their father had met a man who had worked in the gumfields and said there was a future to be built in the new country. So, taking a leap of faith, the eldest son set sail for the South Pacific in 1904, followed at 2 yearly intervals by four of his brothers, 14 year old Josip and his next eldest brother arrived in 1910.
For several years after their arrival the brothers worked in the swamps of Northland, digging for gum. The work was physically taxing yet profitable, especially for those like the Babich brothers who were willing to put in the hard yards.
Josip never enjoyed digging for gum and early on he planted grapes. In 1916, he made his first batch of wine and began selling it to his fellow gumdiggers under the name Babich Bros. After a few years of back breaking work, the brothers had put enough money aside to purchase a piece of scrub-covered land in Henderson Valley.
At the end of their last day digging gum, Josip took to his thigh-high boots with an axe, cutting them to small pieces and swearing never to do this type of work again. He never did.
In 1919, the brothers moved to Henderson Valley permanently. In the following years they worked harder than they had in the gumfields. Clearing the site, planting vegetables, setting cows to graze, developing orchards and, most importantly, vineyards. Josip often said about those days, “For 11 years, the sun would never see me in bed.”
The early years in Henderson were ones of self-sufficiency. Although Josip’s wine was gaining a good reputation, liquor laws at the time were restrictive and it was hard to turn a profit. There were some early successes and Josip loved the process of making his fortified wines.
The years went by and Josip’s sons joined the family business, Peter in 1949 and Joe in 1958. Peter quickly learned the ropes, proved himself at running the business and was given power of attorney by his father at the tender age of 21. Joe enjoyed science through school and quickly took to the winemaking side of things.
As their business changed, so did the tastes of New Zealand’s wine drinkers. The sweeter fortified wines were losing popularity and the drier table varieties took hold. The Babichs were quick to adapt. In fact, quite often they were leading the way.
Joe was always keen to experiment with new ways of making his wine. And he was always eager to learn, picking up everything he could from his father, his trusty winemaking book and the local Young Winemakers Club which included many other first generation New Zealanders involved with their own family wineries.
The following decades saw huge advancements in technology, viticulture and winemaking. Babich Wines was always at the forefront of these developments, expanding into Hawke’s Bay in the 80s and Marlborough in the 90s. The appeal of New Zealand wine was being recognised internationally and Joe and Peter were both heavily involved in helping prepare the New Zealand wine industry’s launch onto the world stage.
Today, Peter and Joe are both still very much involved and Peter’s son David leads the third generation of the family business, taking our quality wines to the world through the start of our next hundred years…
Join their celebrations and read more about Babich’s 100 years, 100 stories here.