Humble and extremely talented, Nick Picone heads up winemaking for the Villa Maria Group racking up awards and frequent flyer points with equal ease thanks to his hard work..
If winemaking success was measured by the amount of gold medals and trophy awards then the Villa Maria Group would be a long way ahead of whoever came second. There is rarely a competition or even a wine class that they don’t dominate. As chief winemaker for the Villa Maria Group Nick Picone deserves a significant share of the credit for their success, although he is the first to acknowledge that the large organisation he works for is home to much winemaking talent. My knowledge of Picone suggests that he would be quick to shoulder the responsibility if a winemaking disaster occurred. He should, therefore, be as quick to accept a share of the credit for winemaking brilliance.
Raised in Hawke’s Bay, his first wine job was at Esk Valley Estate (part of the Villa Maria Group). He subsequently moved to Marlborough and then later to Auckland to oversee Villa Maria’s Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne winemaking. In 2006 he spent time working for Villa Maria’s international distributor Hatch Mansfield in the United Kingdom, followed by a vintage at GD Vajra in Barolo, Italy. He has also completed two vintages at DeLoach vineyards in California, USA. In 2015 Picone was promoted to group chief winemaker, he continues to head up Villa Maria’s North Island wines, but now works closely with the brand’s entire stable.
Picone’s winemaking awards and achievements are extensive. Highlights include being listed in an international selection of 30 winemakers under 40 to watch by Drinks Business UK in 2014, Winemaker of the Year at the NZ International Wine Show in 2013, awarded Wine Society Australasia Young Winemaker of the Year in 2012 – becoming the first New Zealander to be awarded in the competition’s 12-year history – and awarded joint winner New Zealand Winemaker of the Year at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards in 2011. In 2004 he won the NZ Yalumba scholarship to attend the Len Evans Tutorial in Australia. There were 12 places available only one of which went to a New Zealander.
Picone is a thoughtful, quietly enthusiastic, articulate and clearly intelligent winemaker. I spent a day with him sightseeing in New York and was profoundly impressed with this quietly spoken and very decisive young man. We made a pilgrimage to a famous guitar shop (famous to Picone if not to me) where I discovered that he has a serious passion for music as well as his family and wine.
Picone’s favourite wine is chardonnay. He believes that New Zealand’s best are from Hawke’s Bay while admitting that he is biased because he grew up there. He now lives in Hawke’s Bay with his wife Mandy and three children Gemma, Hayden and Millie, but earns an impressive quantity of frequent flyer points with regular trips to other regions.