MY BEST DECISIONS...
One of my best decisions was to change careers and go into winemaking, aged 21. As the second son of Croatian immigrants, I was expected to learn a trade. I became a carpenter and joiner, but I found the building trade restrictive. I leased five acres of land in Auckland from my parents and half an acre of grapes. I knew the basics of winemaking and bought all the equipment for $3,000 from an ex-RAF pilot.
When I started in 1961, Villa Maria was a one-man band, but it eventually developed a reputation as a boutique wine company. A big decision was to buy the Vidal winery in Hawkes Bay for around $30,000 in 1976. My bank thought I was crazy, so I found another lender - and the risk paid off. I now had 100 acres of grapes and could make 20,000 cases a year - double what I'd been making before.
Villa Maria also led the way in using screw-caps; all our wine has been screw-capped since 2001. About 95% of wine sold in New Zealand was cork-topped but there were lots of problems with quality. Now 97% of wine in Australia is screw-capped.
MY WORST DECISIONS...
I went into receivership in the mid-1980s after losing $4m. I was bulldozed out of business by large corporations trying to cash in on the growing wine industry. They slashed their prices and we had to follow. It did a huge amount of damage. But four months later we turned it around. I got a business partner, sold my house and borrowed enough to buy back half the company for around $1m. Fifteen years ago, I bought it all back.
The biggest cost in any business is employing the wrong people and not following your heart. The worst decisions I've made include employing people I wasn't satisfied with. On paper they were perfect, but sometimes instinct tells you different and I didn't follow my intuition.
Being too cautious
Twenty years ago, there was an opportunity to buy more vineyards in Marlborough. I decided not to because I was cautious about debt after going into receivership. The price of that land has increased tenfold since, so I guess that's a mistake. But we're not doing badly: After 50 years in business we produce 750,000 cases a year, sell to more than 50 countries, and have a turnover of NZ$100m (£51m).