Kumeu River | Auckland
Maté Brajkovich, a Dalmatian by birth, arrived in New Zealand in 1938 and by 1944 he and his parents (Mick and Kate) were able to purchase land in Kumeu with a small vineyard. Back in Dalmatia, many families made wine for their own use from their own vines and so it seemed only natural to do the same in New Zealand. The land was so well-suited for wine grapes that wine production in Kumeu far exceeded home consumption and so the Brajkovichs started making wine commercially, becoming one of the early pioneers in Auckland and helping to establish its reputation as a world-class wine region.
Although Mick died in 1949, Maté and Katé continued to run the family business which became known as San Marino Vineyards. They produced dry red table wine in the style that was preferred for everyday drinking back in Europe, and soon gained popularity throughout Auckland. In 1957, Maté met his wife, Melba Sutich, whose grandparents had also immigrated to New Zealand from Croatia. Maté and Melba were married in 1958, and as the vineyard and winery expanded, so did the family. Michael was born in 1960, followed by Marijana in 1961, Milan in 1963 and Paul in 1967. For the children, being brought up around the winery established a strong foundation of industry knowledge and skill that would take the winery to a new level of success in years to come.
1979 was a watershed year for Kumeu River, when the Brajkovichs moved away from hybrid varieties used for the production of fortified and basic red and white wines to the now-common - but then-unusual - varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. As Michael, Milan and Paul became more involved in the family business in the 1980s, the Brajkovichs continued to focus on quality and reputation. It was in 1986 the winery changed its name to Kumeu River Wines and began making a Burgundy-influenced style of Chardonnay that featured indigenous yeasts, extended lees ageing and malolactic fermentation. The result has been a series of wines that are innovative, distinctive and unique in both style and quality for New Zealand.