Native flora in olive greens and browns, lichen-covered rocks, cruising Karearea and the odd rabbit inhabit the steep mountainsides above Tarras Vineyards.
Owner Hayden Johnston has a passion for this rugged and difficult place…the dramatic canyons, the eye-wateringly beautiful vistas. A passion, it turns out, that has caused him a few sleepless nights of late. The former-chartered accountant recently hatched a plan to create a unique wine tasting and function venue high on this hill, to allow others to experience what has so inspired him.
At Cromwell’s swish motor racing and tourist facility, Highlands Motorsports Park, a resource consent issue had caused the closure of a popular restaurant adjacent to the park entry.
“I was having a coffee with Luke the Scottish manager there at The Nose and he said the place was closing and the building was going to be dismantled. Before I finished my coffee I had decided I was going to move it and that I had just the spot,” Hayden said.
Two spots emerged as the plan developed, the other being at Earnscleugh near Clyde. As the logistics of moving the monster became clear, a narrow bridge across the Clutha River ruled that one out.
Now that the two day transportation operation, possibly New Zealand’s largest and trickiest, is behind him, Hayden can safely say it was meant to be. The building’s curved roof and perfectly matching colours have allowed it to blend remarkably well into its surroundings. Even the locals say they really have to know where to look to spot it on its high perch, surrounded by nature’s landscaping.
“I don’t think I could have paid an architect to design a better building for this site. I’m very aware of the environment, we are right next to a DoC site here but it’s very suitable and just blends in.”
At 16.7m(four lanes) wide and 22m long, road signs had to be pulled out and traffic cleared as it made its carefully orchestrated way up the highway. Remote controlled steering, hydraulically-tilting wheels and the impressive skills - and courage - of the Fulton Hogan transportation crew allowed Hayden’s idea to become a reality.
The interior fittings and appliances later arrived by shipping container and all is quickly being reconstructed by a team of builders who have probably the most scenic smoko spot in the country.
Food and Wine at Altitude
Originally from Dunedin and of Ngai Tahu descent, Hayden moved from crunching numbers into the wine industry in 2002. Tarras Vineyards, once part of Bendigo Station, sits on a terrace above the river valley. It’s a fairly small block at 3.5ha and is an organically managed, boutique, hands-on operation.
“On very good years, only when I think it’s going to be worthy of a gold medal, we make a single vineyard Pinot Noir here called The Canyon. Every time, it has won multiple Gold Medals. The 2009 vintage won the international Pinot Noir trophy at Decanter Asia Wine Awards… judged better than the regional winner from Burgundy in France.”
In addition the vineyard sources fruit from other growers for Alexandra-based, French winemaker Antony Worch to create Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris blends. These are eventually sent to fine dining restaurants and retail outlets throughout Australia and Asia. Tarras Vineyards also produces a complex Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.
Hayden looks forward to being able to host wine industry colleagues for tastings at the new venue which will be called Tarras Vineyards The Canyon.
“We can start to have fun with it, invite our customers over and have wine events here. I have an idea to have lovely big double-glazed cedar doors opening up at the front to take in the views.”
Never short on ideas, Hayden also plans to add a mezzanine floor to the building and open the whole floor space up to allow large groups of people to be catered for. Four hundred square metres should do it for the weddings and big functions he has in mind.
Then there’s the celebrity chef idea…cooking demonstrations in a fully commercial kitchen with groups of guests.
A second chunk of building, a movie theatre which is thankfully much smaller – will be on its way up the hill once its platform has been prepared. This will sit behind the main building and be accessed down a natural pathway between huge rocky outcrops.
The plan is to be operational by late summer, Hayden says, and the builders are not mucking around. Already the layout is taking shape in the opened up interior only a few short weeks after the building arrived.
“We’re not starting from scratch, we’re just reassembling.”