Meet Mr. Chardonnay – Nick Picone, Group Chief Winemaker at Villa Maria

Nick Picone Villa Maria

If you pick-up an award-winning Villa Maria Chardonnay, chances are Nick Picone had something to do with it. The talented winemaker not only has an impressive Chardonnay trophy collection, he’s also pretty good at making Merlots and Bordeaux blends – in fact the entire New Zealand wine portfolio, hence he’s the Chief Group Winemaker at New Zealand’s most awarded winery, Villa Maria Estate.

Nick has been with the family business for almost 20 years, beginning as a teenager at Esk Valley Estate where he discovered his passion for winemaking. While Nick has made wines from all of New Zealand’s main winegrowing regions, as well as completing several harvests abroad in Italy and the United States, he’s definitely known for making exceptional Chardonnay from the Keltern Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay.

After four years as a Winemaker for Villa Maria in Marlborough, Nick moved to their Auckland winery in 2006 and took charge of the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne production in 2008. Since 2015 he’s heading up Villa Maria’s entire winemaking team as Group Chief Winemaker and is  now back on his home turf in Hawke’s Bay wine country.

When and where did you fall in love with wine?
My father would drink wine with dinner and I first discovered wine when I was about 16 years old. I vividly remember trying Esk Valley Merlot one evening as that’s exactly where I would end up with my first vintage two years later.

If you were a wine, which one would you be?
Tough question! I’m not going to get too specific here. As a white perhaps a variety with good acidity as I seem to be holding with age… Or a big bolshy red that mellows out, as I know I certainly have…

What would you do if you wouldn’t be a winemaker?
None of the hobbies I’m passionate about outside of wine would pay their way! I’ve thought about this and it’s a hard call. I would possibly have beer brewing and/or writing some where in the mix. Come to think of it, I’m not sure those activities would pay their way either! Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about this!

Highlight of your winemaking career to date?
I’ve been lucky to have been singled out for several accolades over the years which I’m quick to point out is a reflection of working within a great team and having excellent vineyards. Making the Keltern Chardonnay that took out numerous trophy wine of show awards in the same year including the Air NZ Wine Awards remains a very fond memory.

Nick Picone Villa Maria

Nick Picone and Hamish McGhie calling in some favours for their precious Keltern Chardonnay

Which wine are you saving for a special occasion?
I have a few various nice bottles of Bordeaux and Barolo in particular aging in the cellar but I try not to get to precious about it, live for today and share with good friends and family.

Share a fact about yourself that only a few know
A mate and I came runner up in our primary school’s lip sync completion. We performed Areosmith’s ‘Walk this Way’. He had hairspray and a black cardboard guitar and I was all jacket, swagger and sunglasses… The guy that came first had no props and performed a delicate John Farnham song that swooned the judges… We were way cooler and we were robbed! But this was 30 years ago so of course I carry no grudges… Anyway, It was an epic afternoon and the audience was heaving.

Dead or alive, who would you like to share a glass of vino with?
Another tough question. There are loved ones who have moved on that you would love to reconnect with. But its tough to beat sharing a glass of vino with my lovely better half Mandy. Our three kids always give us plenty to talk about!

3 New Zealand Chardonnays we have to try
Anything with Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ or ‘Single Vineyard’ on the label!…  What??

What makes NZ Chardonnays special, especially vs its French siblings
Undoubtedly higher quality/price ratio.

Cheers Nick and all the best for the 2018 harvest!

Find out more about Nick and Villa Maria Estate on their website and make sure you follow them on Facebook | Instagram & Twitter.