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In 1936 when war threatened their native Croatia, Nikola and Zuva Nobilo decided to start over and move to New Zealand, a country nearly halfway around the world. When they boarded a ship to begin their long passage, they left behind nearly everything they owned. With one exception. They brought with them more than 300 years of winemaking tradition.
As it turns out, that tradition coupled with hard work was everything they needed to succeed in their new homeland. In 1943, they planted some of New Zealand’s first commercial vines at Huapai, west of Auckland.
It wasn’t easy at first. Laws didn’t favor the wine industry, and New Zealanders didn’t drink wine with meals the way Europeans did. Nikola stuck to it, making all his equipment by hand and supporting his family by farming. He also successfully lobbied the government to change the country’s liquor laws to allow wine to be served with food in restaurants.
By the 1970s, Nikola was a successful winemaker who helped lead the move from hybrid grapes to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. He also worked on developing new winegrowing regions-most notably Marlborough. In 1994, Nikola was awarded an Order of the British Empire medal for his contribution to the New Zealand wine industry.