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Sir George Fistonich steps down as Villa Maria CEO after 55 years

Published:  14 February, 2018

Top New Zealand winery Villa Maria has a new CEO.

Founder and owner Sir George Fistonich will be stepping down after 55 years at the helm passing over the reigns to successor Abe Salt.

He will continue to play an active role in the company, relinquishing the top job in order to concentrate on his duties as a global ambassador for the brand.

“Due to Villa Maria’s success as a major player globally, my ambassador role has become extremely time consuming,” Fistonich said.

“As the CEO, Abe will be able to manage the important day to day operations and strategic priorities for the company. This will allow me to concentrate on my global brand ambassadorial role and drive other large projects such as the development of our new winery and retail centre in Hawkes Bay.”

He is succeeded by Salt who has 15 years’ experience in the wine industry, investment banking and strategic advisory including stints with Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) as the global head of strategy and Penfolds.

Most recently, he was principal at Iron Gate Consulting where he provided strategic advice to the wine industry.

Villa Maria’s key export markets include the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Asia and Australia and has a history spanning six decades.

Fistonich began as a one-man band making dry red and whites from the greater Auckland regions and has since grown the brand to receive international recognition.

Villa Maria also received a lot of interest over its decision to use screwcaps.

As an early adopter and one of the first major labels in New Zealand to move away from cork, it was part of a game-changing New World movement to eliminate the risk of cork taint and use the convenient plastic closures, which suited the growing popularity of New Zealand’s fresh white styles in particular.