Obituary: Alex Corban

Alex Corban, New Zealand wine industry visionary, has passed away.

Alex Corbin was instrumental in putting New Zealand on the world wine map.

Alex Corbin was instrumental in putting New Zealand on the world wine map.

Winemakers in New Zealand are paying tribute to a man they say helped make the island nation’s $1.2 billion (£0.6b) wine industry what it is today.

Corban, 89, was a member of the Corban family that established one of the country’s first wineries in West Auckland, according to

Colleagues say he encouraged innovation and worked tirelessly to bring the fragmented wine industry together with one political voice.

“New Zealand didn’t have a wine industry when he was coming through, and he was very astute in trying to stack the blocks correctly,” said winemaker Peter Babich.

Another industry stalwart, John Buck, said Corban worked “with patience and persistence” to give the industry credibility.

“Alex gave us a base level of respectability,” said Buck.

“We are today what we are because of the foundations that were established, and Alex was the major contributor to that,” he said.

Corban’s grandfather, Assid Abraham Corban, a Lebanese immigrant from a winemaking background, started a winery in Henderson in 1902.

Alex Corban

Alex Corban

All the family played a part in the business, and Alex Corban become one of the country’s first tertiary-educated winemakers.

Babich said Corban was the ”go-to” man for other winemakers when they needed advice.

”Nowadays nearly all our winemakers go through university and get their degree in wine, but in his era that was quite rare,” he said.

Corban was at the forefront of the move away from the hybrid-style wines once common in New Zealand and pursued European varieties.

”He was quite a leader on wine styles and equipment in the industry and he was very helpful,” Babich said.

Awarded an OBE in 1978 and the New Zealand Medal in 1990, Corban and his late wife, Gwen, retired to Hawke’s Bay.

They had four children, and winemaking continued to run in the family.

One son, Alwyn, co-founded Ngatarawa Wines near Hastings, and another, Jeremy, co-founded Big Sky Wines in Martinborough.

Alwyn Corban said his father’s eyes were opened to a new world of wine when he studied oenology in Australia in the 1940s and, on his return, set about changing the industry.

“During his time there was a shift from fortified wine to table wine, quality improved and New Zealand wine was put on the international stage,” he said.

“He didn’t reap the benefits of that, but he did the groundwork for our generation to build on.”

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