Grape expectations for pinot noir lifestyle
Fourteen individual lot owners who bought into McArthur Ridge have banded together to try to make their lifestyle dreams become a reality.
John Rasmussen had a dream - to build a home in the country, set within a vineyard, where he could sit on his deck with a glass of wine enjoying retirement.
Little did he know, nine years ago when he bought Lot 103 - a 4.6-hectare section of land within the McArthur Ridge subdivision near Alexandra, that dream would turn into what he says has been a nightmare.
A representative of the companies behind the McArthur Ridge subdivision declined to comment when approached by the Mirror.
In 2005, Rasmussen and his wife Christine came to Central Otago from their corporate lives in Auckland in search of a piece of land, to build a home for retirement.
"For us it was about how do you get there and looking for opportunities. We had just about given up and a real estate agent took us up here and we fell in love with the view, the concept. It was brilliant - it was sold as a pinot noir lifestyle development with a return on the investment."
Rasmussen, along with 13 other people scattered throughout the country, bought sections within the 645ha McArthur Ridge area developed - of which 174ha were covered in pinot vines.
Rasmussen said the nightmare began in 2008 when the small lot owners were allegedly not paid for that year's harvest, which is the subject of an ongoing legal battle.
At the end of 2008, the lot owners were forced to see the 2009 season to completion. After which, Rasmussen says they sought to get separation from McArthur Ridge Management Ltd - who managed the vineyard and sold the grapes - and Mount Dunstan Estate was born.
Mount Dunstan Estate managed all the small lot owners' vineyards with John Rasmussen's wife Christine stepping in as manager in 2012, and John Rasmussen taking care of machinery and sales.
Christine is training at the Otago Polytechnic, and was being mentored by Robin Dicey, he said.
"When we moved here I expected to semi-retire, enjoy the views, fishing and Central Otago weather but we are not going to continue to get them (MRML) to run the vineyard," said Rasmussen.
Small lot owner Jerry Day said since the Rasmussens had taken over managing the vineyard they were all in charge of their own destiny. He said "It is all transparent and they have everyone's interests at heart."
Day moved to the area in 2007 with his wife and two sons from London for a better lifestyle and work/life balance.
"Someone told me about land for sale and it was a good price - it was absolutely beautiful. We didn't know anything about the area so we researched the schools, economy and what there would be to do and it stacked up and we took the plunge."
The investment was supposed to be "hands off", but when "things fell over" the small lot owners decided to band together to make a success of their dreams, he said.
Rasmussen said with 48 hectares of vines, Mount Dunstan Estate was the second largest vineyard in Central Otago - and was doing well.
"It's not what we wanted to do, but we are loving it . . . I would say in the last two years, the legal side aside, the fact we have taken over the management and it's viable, people are becoming a lot happier about it.
"The luxury resort development idea might be pie in the sky but actually, the pinot noir lifestyle is still alive and well and by landowners sticking together they are becoming in control of their own destiny."
Robin Schulz, a representative of the companies behind the McArthur Ridge subdivision, declined to comment to the Mirror.