It is impossible to tell the story of winemaking in New Zealand without telling the tale of many Croatians. Those who, in the extremely turbulent 20th century in Europe, decided to go as far away as possible, to a land that seemed to offer so much for the immigrants, and then it turned out it offered even more than they were expecting, when the viticulture and winemaking became popular in the country.
The earliest days of winemaking on New Zealand (and the first vines were brought to the islands in 1830s) were not full of success and high quality wines. Most vines grown were so-called “hybrid grapes”, the grape varieties that are the product of a crossing of two or more Vitis species. The wines were often fortified or very sweet (similar to ports or sherrys) not of any significant quality, and additionally, they were quite unpopular in New Zealand, as its inhabitants mostly enjoyed beer.
Except for the immigrant communities that moved to New Zealand from the countries where goods wine have been made for ages. And Nikola Nobilo and his family were one of those immigrants, as they moved to New Zealand from Lumbarda, a village on the island of Korčula where traditionally Grk variety is grown and wine made. He moved to New Zealand in 1936, and soon bought some land near Huapai, north-west of Auckland, where he started planting vines and fruit and vegetables. His farm was officially started in 1943, and it was one of the first commercial vineyards in New Zealand. He wanted to make wines similar to the ones made in Europe, but one of the problems was that the laws didn’t favour the industry – at that time, it was illegal for a restaurant to serve wine with a meal! Nikola Nobilo is often said to be the person who lobbied the hardest for the change of that law, and at the same time he worked hard at introducing and promoting the classic varieties, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The change in the varieties planted, accompanied with the changing culture and increased interest in New Zealand wines (that were getting better each year!) brought on the major growth in the wine industry on New Zealand, and Nikola Nobilo was certainly one of the key players during that period. He was also spreading his vineyards all over New Zealand, looking for potentially good vine-growing positions, and his efforts are considered extremely important in developing of the whole Marlborough region, where his world-famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc comes from.
As the New Zealand popularity continued to grow, so did Nobilo’s business, and it became one of the largest wine producers (and exporters) in New Zealand. In 1995 he was awarded an OBE, for his services to the viticulture industry. In 1998 Nobilo’s company bought another one of the major Croatian New Zealand winemaking company, the Selaks, and just a few years after that the company was purchased by one of (then) largest Australian winemakers BRL Hardy and currently the wines are sold under the Constellation Wines brand name internationally. He continued to make wine under his personal brand for several years after that. Nikola Nobilo passed away on August 28th, 2007, few days after his 94th birthday.