100 years at Babich Wines

August 2016

The 100 year old business produces four million litres of wine a year from its 11 vineyards

osip Babich emigrated to NZ in 1910 as a 14 year old, to join his brothers who were making a living digging for kauri gum in the far north of New Zealand. As the gum began to dwindle Josip moved to a 29ha block of unimproved land the brothers had bought at the base of the Waitakere ranges. He produced his first wine in 1916.

From humble beginnings, Babich Wines now produces four million litres of wine every year from its 11 vineyards in Auckland, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. The wine is sold in 40 countries.

Babich makes a variety of wines and over the years they have been recognised around the world. Their 2000 vintage Marlborough Riesling was a trophy winner at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in 2001. Influential wine magazines have also awarded accolades, in particular for the company’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Black Label Sauvignon Blanc and Hawkes Bay Irongate Chardonnay.

Josip died in 1983 at the age of 87, and today his sons Peter and Joe remain as chairman and managing director, respectively. Peter’s middle son David is a third generation Babich. He is the company’s general manager and cites Josip as an ongoing inspiration.

Export income from New Zealand wine production has seen a phenomenal increase in the past 20 years, growing nearly 24 per cent each year. The industry supports more than 16,500 full-time jobs. Australia is New Zealand’s biggest market, followed by Britain and the United States. Exports to Canada and Asia are rising.

The business survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, two world wars and post-war decades of strict government regulations that were not always friendly to the wine industry. That all changed in the mid-1980s when the world developed a serious taste for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and sales exploded internationally.

Babich Wines now has 70 people on the payroll and also employs seasonal contractors.

Over time, many family wineries have moved into corporate hands, leaving Babich as one of the oldest family concerns in the country that exports wine. Those changing times mean competitors for Babich are now often multinationals. The company continues its sustainability programme to leave the earth in a fit state for generations to build on. One 70ha vineyard is certified organic and the remaining ones are part of the industry’s sustainability programme.

Joe Babich has long been acclaimed as one of New Zealand’s most talented and respected winemakers and wine judges, and has carved out a reputation for producing consistently outstanding wines during more than 35 vintages as a winemaker.

He says their winemaking philosophy is to have vineyards in the right regions, on superior sites, and to get the right varieties growing on those superior sites.

When he joined the family business in 1958, annual grape crush was around 30 tonnes, with a production of predominantly fortified wines and generic whites and reds. Throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s, he and his brother’s wines received a multitude of awards and a growing reputation in New Zealand and overseas.

Joe’s been Chairman of Judges at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards on six occasions. In 1998 Joe retired from wine judging, ending a 35 year involvement in this field.

One of his personal highlights was in 2012 when the Babich brand was named in the ‘TOP 50 WORLD’S MOST ADMIRED WINE BRANDS by Drinks International magazine. Another highlight was the building of a new winery in Blenheim in 2013.