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May 19, 2014

How crazy is it that Selak's is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year? I mean, as a wine lover, it feels as though it has always been there and can always be relied on, like a tried and trusted recipe or a comfy cardigan. And although I never met any member of the Selak family, I knew they had a rich winemaking heritage - I just didn't realise how far back it reached.

Selak's is one of New Zealand's original wine brands, founded in 1934 by Croatian immigrant Marino Selak, one of a wave of more than 8000 early immigrants who could not fathom life without wine because it held such huge importance as the social glue of celebrating food and family. They came from the Dalmatian coast in search of the means with which to become landowners. Many earned the funds in Northland's kauri gum fields and eventually poured their profits into businesses such as freight, timber, fruit-growing, construction, dairying, fishing, retailing and wine.

Marino planted his first 300 vines on his Henderson property in 1930. Ten years later his nephew Mate joined him from Croatia and took up winegrowing until his uncle retired seven years later.

Things hummed along, even during the Depression, however, a spanner hit the works when the Ministry of Works compulsorily acquired the property for Auckland's North Western Motorway route in 1960. That didn't deter the Selak's though, five years later the winery was up and running again after the purchase of 8ha out in Kumeu, planted in 5500 vines. Mate's sons Ivan and Michael joined the firm and then in 1976 the family completed its first export order, to Australia.

In the following years the company began to seek out other regions in New Zealand as ideal for grape-growing and, indeed, its long-serving group winemaker, Darryl Woolley (who has been with the company for nearly 30 years), is considered by many to be one of the nation's initial "developers" of our modern classic sauvignon blanc. It was a Selak's wine that sat among the first tasting of New Zealand wines in London in 1982 - and the company's first sauvignon blanc vintage won three gold medals at the National Show in 1984.

Global company Constellation Brands has owned the Selak's brand for a few years, and it has decided to honour the brand's 80 year milestone and its history of innovation by renaming the company's Corner 50 vineyard in Hawke's Bay the Selak's Vineyard.

"It's where we produce some of our finest wines," says CEO of Constellation Brands, New Zealander Joe Stanton, "and we're all really proud to see the Selaks name above the door now."


Source:  Hawke's Bay Today, Yvonne Lorkin