Vineyard clean-up

03:25, Dec 19 2012

When Rusty Rayne and Lisa Goodson took over Moutere Hills Vineyard and Cafe several months ago, it was a mess.

The vines were a tangled jungle, the grass so high it was hard to see, the fences broken and the buildings covered with mould - the result of almost five years of neglect.

The 12.6-hectare property produced its last vintage in 2007 before closing and it languished until Mr Rayne spotted it for sale this year.

The Christchurch couple, who had long held a dream of owning a vineyard, saw enough potential to put in an offer which was duly accepted.

As well as getting it for a very good price, what appealed was the modern winery and cafe, both of which were built and barely used after a devastating fire in 2006.

In October they ended their 21-year police careers and moved north to Nelson to take on the daunting task of resurrecting an abandoned business.

In a frantic few weeks, they have started pulling out old vines and replanting and re-grafting others. Fields have been mowed, gardens revamped and the cafe reopened after a big cleanup in order to generate some cashflow.

They have hired Rimu Grove's highly regarded winemaker Patrick Stowe and viticultural consultant John Selwood, as well as a chef, Cameron Haldane, who has produced a new menu.

''It's been a very busy time and a huge learning curve,'' says Mr Rayne, who comes from a farming background but has no previous vineyard experience.

''It's always been a passion of ours and on our holidays we've travelled and seen a lot, the good and bad side of things.

''It's about getting the right people on board and we've done that.''
They have received a lot of help from good friend Terry Milton - another ex-policeman -  of Milcrest Estate, and encouragement from other local winemakers.

''It's such a positive industry to be in and a fantastic change from the police and I'm really enjoying it,'' says the former detective sergeant.

Ms Goodson, who was a prosecuting sergeant, says the timing was right to make a move, although she woke up some mornings wondering if they had taken on more than they could handle.

''When we first arrived, we went 'bloody hell, what have we done?'.

''But we are chipping away at things, and it was a sense of achievement and relief when we opened the cafe and everything worked, the food was great and we got good feedback.''

She says it is a welcome change from Christchurch where they lost their house to the September 2010 earthquake before rebuilding.

''It was stressful going through a whole year wondering when your house was going to fall down and working all day helping others go through the same situation.''

Mr Rayne agrees there is still a huge amount of work to be done but says they have made a fast start.

About half the 3ha of vines were past saving and will either require replacing or regrafting.

They have already replanted part of the lower block with chardonnay. More chardonnay and some riesling and chenin blanc will be added next year.

An intensive pruning and spray programme has helped clean up the sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir  and pinot gris vines on the hill block, with the sauvignon blanc to be grafted over to syrah and pinot noir.

They are hopeful of producing some wine this season, even if they have to buy in grapes. In the meantime, they will sell Rimu Grove wine, a style they want to emulate.

To make use of  the larger-than-required capacity of their winery - which is full of state-of-the-art equipment - they are keen to produce wines for other boutique producers.

All going well, the vineyard will eventually be expanded, although stock will be used to keep pastures under control until then.

Putting the vineyard back on the map online is another priority, he says.  ''If it doesn't show up, people don't know we are here, and it's not the easiest place to find.

''This place used to crank in the early 2000s when [original owner] Simon Thomas had it.''

Mr Rayne is not put off by the recent struggles of many smaller wineries in the wake of the global financial crisis and grape oversupply problems, saying now is an ideal time to enter the industry with market prospects on the improve.

''We got the property for a fantastic price, the winery and cafe are new, the vineyard is fixable with hard work and things are looking more positive and Nelson is a beautiful part of the country.

''We want to walk before we can run and the key is getting this place going well and to start moving some wine.''