Vilagrad Winery fires back into life
If overcoming adversity is a typically Waikato trait, then the Nooyen family personify it.
The family behind the 100-year-old Vilagrad Winery could hardly be blamed for being tempted to throw in the towel after fire tore through the Rukuhia Rd business in June. The blaze destroyed the winery offices, kitchen, and parts of the 100-year-old wine cellar.
It could have been a killing blow and yet - true to their bold predictions made just a day after the disaster - the family have just resumed operations with the first of their regular grand Sunday lunches, three months and 10 days later.
Signs of the fire are all around, from the singed labels on the bottles of wine to the toasted barrels and casks and a still blackened brick wall. But the main dining area is now housed under a massive temporary marquee that will stay in place for at least a couple of years. Eventually an entirely new building will be constructed that will feature a redesigned and relocated main entrance.
"We will keep a few of the charred reminders, but we won't overdo it," laughed business manager Adam Nooyen, who has spearheaded the rebuild.
"We had to get new tables, chairs, re-do the power, water, all the infrastructure. It's been massive. But we got there. Now we just need to do the rest."
The future is not just about rebuilding. It is about improving and expanding of what the winery and restaurant currently offers and a "cellar door experience" giving visitors the opportunity of tours and in-house tasting sessions is a big part of that agenda.
"We won't be sitting on our laurels. We have been looking around at what similar businesses are offering overseas and what the guys like [Hamilton's] Phoenix Group have been doing with the Smith and McKenzie brand.
"New Zealanders are very fussy as consumers and as a country we do some things better than others.
"Coffee in New Zealand is fantastic for example. But we are mindful that Vilagrad is first and foremost a casual family environment, not a fine dining establishment, and we want to keep playing to our strengths.
"People come here for a fun, casual experience and that's what we want to keep giving them."
Many had helped the family. As chief winemaker Jacob Nooyen, the other sons of owners Nelda and Pieter Nooyen noted in a thank-you speech to those at the lunch, much of the Ngahinapouri community and beyond had assisted.
They included neighbours Lance Coombes and his dairy farmer son Cameron - who had lent a walk-in chiller free of charge - the numerous tradesmen and women, staff members, friends, extended family and volunteers.
Now the Nooyens are focusing their attention on the next big date in their calendars - the upcoming Summervines Fire Festival on October 31, effectively the venue's big comeback party that will feature performances by some top New Zealand bands, including headline acts The Black Seeds and Tiki Taane.
"It will be the biggest concert we have ever hosted," Adam said.
"Usually these shows are part of a travelling winery tour, but this one we are putting the whole thing together ourselves. It's going to be a great day and we hope to get a lot of people out here to support us and have a good time."