The Babich family is mourning the passing of Joe Babich, New Zealand wine industry pioneer, who passed away on 13 January 2022 after a two year battle with cancer, aged 81.
David Babich, Joe’s nephew and CEO of Babich Wines, said, “On behalf of the Babich family and with great sadness I would like to announce the passing of Joe Babich, much-loved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and New Zealand wine industry pioneer. Joe was an exceptionally well-regarded and talented winemaker, but his greatest legacy is his positive impact on those around him. Joe was invariably and famously down-to-earth, warm, and approachable, with a wry and gentle sense of humour. He will be sorely missed by family and friends, and colleagues in the wine industry.”
Joe was born on 10 October 1940 into a winemaking family, with his father Josip having founded Babich Wines in 1916 and in time his brother Peter also working in the business. After initially exploring a pharmacist apprenticeship, Joe decided to join the family winery, where over a 60 year career in the wine industry he built a reputation as one of New Zealand’s most talented and respected winemakers and wine judges.
He combined a traditional attitude to winemaking with an open-mindedness that allowed constant innovation. Joe produced, in secret and unknown to family or the winery, one of the first New Zealand Chardonnays to be not only matured, but also fermented, in barrel. The resulting wine, Irongate Chardonnay, continues to be an icon in New Zealand wine even today.
Joe’s contributions to the New Zealand wine industry are extensive, and are recognised by a range of accolades. These include the Winemaker of the Year Award at the New Zealand Royal Easter Show (1994), the Sir George Fistonich Medal in recognition of service to New Zealand wine (2013), the ONZM in the New Year’s Honours for services to the Wine Industry (2015), induction into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame (2015), induction into the West Auckland Business Hall of Fame (2016), and investiture as a Fellow of New Zealand Winegrowers (2017).
Joe also served as Chairman of Judges at the New Zealand Wine Awards on six occasions, testament to his leadership, and the respect with which he was held in the industry. He was also instrumental in setting up the wine export certification process which helped pave the way for the growth of New Zealand wine on the world stage.
Joe Babich is survived by his wife, Judy, and son, André and partner Magdalena and their daughter Stella.