Sir John Kirwan, All Black legend, former Auckland Blues coach and advocate for mental illness awareness, is focusing on another of his great passions — fine Italian wine.
Last month Kirwan, 51, was front and centre at the Festival Italiano in Newmarket, where he introduced the JK.14 brand, which he is using to sell fine Italian wines and liqueurs.
Playing rugby in Italy, he met his wife, Lady Fiorella, who now teaches Italian at the Dante Alighieri School in Auckland, where JK is president.
“We love to promote the Italian culture, language and traditions and the Italian Festival is the emblem of Italy in NZ. The most amazing food and wine companies had a stall and we were there with JK.14 wines for the first time,” JK told Spy.
He and daughter Francesca are the driving force behind JK.14, and their focus is on the finest wines of the Veneto vineyard region in Treviso, Northern Italy.
“I went to Treviso to play rugby, I met my wife, and all my friends. They introduced me to the Italian wine and food culture and I fell in love with it and decided to embrace it in my daily routine.
“A few close friends introduced me to these wineries and winemakers and are now part of my dream since they accepted me to import their products.
“They make wine with such passion that is contagious and we are so proud to represent them here in New Zealand.
“Italians don’t consider alcohol as something that should be vilified, but as a natural and acceptable part of life, one that they want to celebrate and do right.
“We drink slowly, always with our food, enjoy the moment, share tastes and opinions about it.
“Because we both feel Italian, we actually say we are Italian as much as we are Kiwis.”
Francesca, 22, moved to Treviso at age 10 and when her family moved back 3 years ago she remained to play volleyball and study University by correspondence, returning home last year.
“JK.14 has been around for a long time.
“Dad used this logo for all his speeches in Italy. But 14 is a number that is dear to my heart [her Dad’s famous jersey number], it brought me great memories, experience, joy, challenges and it brought me to Treviso ... where JK.14 all started.”
The pair has knowledge of their wines and the history behind them, and their marketing embraces traditional Italian family values. They are working with NSP and Al Volo, and Farro Fresh.
“But most importantly we want to dedicate our time to these people, with tastings, telling stories and making them part of our big Italian family.
“Francesca might deliver your wine in the company’s little red Fiat 500,” JK said.