Melba has been the backbone and strength behind the Brajkovich Family at Kumeu River Wines since 1958. Originally very much in the background as Mate’s wife and partner in the business, Melba has always kept a watchful eye over the winery, especially when Mate was away on Wine Industry business in his various roles on the Executive Committee of the Wine Institute of New Zealand, including Chairman from 1982-1985. Mate’s contribution to the New Zealand wine sector was recognised through his Fellowship of the Wine Institute of NZ in 1991, and the award of OBE in 1985.
Melba was the youngest daughter of an immigrant gumdigger family, and grew up in the countryside near Dargaville. After qualifying as a teacher, she met and married Mate, whose story was similar, and together they pursued his dream. Today she carries on that dream with conviction and vigour. Hers is a true immigrant story of a family travelling to a better place, fitting into the community, making a contribution to New Zealand as a whole, and making a success in their new land.
Following Mate’s death in 1992, Melba assumed the position of Managing Director of Kumeu River Wines, with all her four children also in positions of responsibility in the company. She continues in that role today. Internationally she is a wonderful ambassador for New Zealand and NZ wine. For over 30 years Melba has travelled the world selling wine, initially with Mate, and for the last 20 years on her own. She tells the stories, not only of her own family, but of the NZ wine business and the fantastic country which we live in. In this way Melba has been a tireless advocate for New Zealand wines in general, and Kumeu River wines in particular.
Melba has the wonderful ability to communicate with just about anyone. She will often approach complete strangers and strike up a conversation. Her warmth, and her unique style of story-telling, has captivated numerous visitors and overseas acquaintances and she continues to make a great impression on everyone.
Kumeu River has always been a great venue for entertaining visiting wine personalities and luminaries from New Zealand and around the world. Wine people such as Robert Mondavi, Maynard Amerine, Hans Ambrosi, Kit Stevens, Pierre Beuchet, John Avery, Jancis Robinson and Jasper Morris have enjoyed Melba’s hospitality while visiting New Zealand. Visitors were not just personalities from the wine business, but also others such as Peter Ustinov, Jacques Rogge and Thor Heyerdahl, to name but a few of the people who have been entertained at Melba’s table, and they all comment about the great “family feeling”.
Today Melba continues to run her tours through the winery for groups of visitors, giving an insight to the history of wine and the family in Kumeu from a very personal viewpoint. We get amazing feedback from these tours, all stating how Melba is a wonderful ambassador for our winery and for the New Zealand wine sector.
We are all very proud of her achievements, and her Membership of the New Zealand Order of Merit is a very fitting recognition of them.