Waikato winery to make an end of year comeback video

REBEKAH PARSONS-KING/Waikato Times

Vilagrad winery suffered from a large fire in which the 100 year old cellar was almost completely destroyed but its owners hope for a re-opening in October

You can hear laughter from helpers cleaning the remnants of a fire that tore through the 100-year-old family owned Vilagrad Winey on Rukuhia Rd on Monday.

The winery is a family heirloom that has been passed down through five generations to the Nooyen family.

There are no tears left to cry, there is no room for grieving, there is only hard work, and a lot of laughing.

Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ

The charred remains of the winery are cleared.

Daniel Shore and Jos Reekers help in the clean up.

Helpers sort wine at the Vilagrad winery clean up.

Jos Reekers lends a helping hand, as a youngster he worked at the winery.

A helper takes a break during the clean-up.

The team gathers for a pic at the end of the day's work.

Vilagrad winemaker Jacob Nooyen with a salvaged bottle of wine.

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Positivity is the key to getting through a fire that could have extinguished the business.

The fire tore through the winery offices, kitchen, and parts of the 100-year-old wine cellar; but it did not destroy the family passion.  It has ignited it.

That concept might be hard to believe, given five generations of Milicich blood, sweat and tears are ingrained in every inch of the land nestled in rural Ngahinapouri, 19 km from Hamilton.

Jos Reekers lends a helping hand to clean up after the Vilagrad fire. As a youngster he worked at the winery.
Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ

Jos Reekers lends a helping hand to clean up after the Vilagrad fire. As a youngster he worked at the winery.

Jacob Nooyen, the eldest son of owners Nelda and Pieter Nooyen, is the master winemaker for Vilagrad and 3 Brothers winery.

He is running on adrenalin.

Jacob, who is a Milicich through his mother, shares the deadline for the rebirth of the winery.

"We are going to open again in October. We will have a mobile kitchen. It's a new beginning, the rebirth of Vilagrad."

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Jacob said the family was gutted by the fire, but it hasn't dampened their spirits.

He rushed to the winery at 1.30 am on Monday heeding a panicked family call about the fire.

"Do you know what the hard case thing was about it," says Jacob.

"The fire fighters have been here for functions. It's almost like they knew when they arrived what they needed to save."

He credits the fire service for saving the entertainment area where the bar, stage, dance floor and outside courtyard are.

"We are really gutted. We built this, our generation, mum and dad. We built it together," says Jacob surveying the entertainment area.

"All these bricks were cleaned by my younger brother. Mum and Dad designed it to create a food, wine and entertainment area."

"Each generation, we have built on to the property, including the winery extensions."

Jacob can't keep still. He doesn't like leaving those that have turned up to help get the business back on track.

He pulls out a bottle of Charminer, a popular Vilagrad wine that was saved from the fire. It's delicious, but it comes with a warning.  

"You've got 10 minutes, I need to go back to help," he says.  

His friends have turned up to help everyday. He has known most of them all his life, they want to be there, they need to be there.

Vilagrad Winery is as much part of them as it is to the Nooyen/Milicich family.

They turned up with brooms, diggers and trucks.

It's a painstaking task, separating rubble between the keep-it pile and the biff-it.

It's a labour of love that will see no money change hands -  just good food and wine, and a Heineken or two.

Vilagrad neighbour Jos Reekers, 24, has turned up to work.

He has been clearing rubble and saving bricks from the old cellar since the early morning.

"The Nooyen's have known me since I was a twinkle in my dad's eye," Jos chuckles.

Jos got a part time job doing dishes at the winery when he was 14.

The Reekers have donated their machinery and time to help out a mate.

Now farming on the same road, Jos said he was "devastated" when he got the call about the fire.

"I was coming back from Ohakune when it happened. I knew we had to get there as soon as we could to help out."

Jos said the atmosphere is positive in amongst the rubble, there are "little wins" happening as they clear the area.

"We found half a pallet of Heineken, about 60 boxes that were saved. We tested them and they were all good. We found heaps of cans of Red Bull that was saved as well, we tested those too and they were good."

Jos said hundreds of wine bottles filled with the good stuff were also saved.

He didn't test them, he doesn't do wine.

Another win was the 80 year-old grape vine that grows throughout the building.

"My great-granddad planted this and it is ok, it's still alive," Jacob says.

The wins are growing and fuelling the working bees, although part of the building is destroyed, it can be saved. It should be saved.

But they aren't the only ones dealing with the loss.

Thousands have expressed their grief through social media, emails and phone calls to the Nooyen family.

They've offered their help and support, the Vilagrad movement is rolling in Hamilton, they want it to live, something that Jacob is determined to do.

 "It's overwhelming seeing the all the messages of support," Jacob says.

"When we can't sleep we read all of the comments on Facebook and we feel truly blessed. We will be back bigger than ever."

The firm belief is not surprising as the man who planted the first seed didn't let poverty get in the way of his dreams.

Ivan Milicich Snr came to New Zealand in 1893 from the small seaside village of Podgora in Croatia.

He had next to nothing to his name and started digging kauri gum for a living, scrimping and saving to help his brothers emigrate to New Zealand and to buy land.

The business was established in 1922. 

Family and tradition is the cornerstone of Vilagrad Winery.

During the grape harvest the family open their vineyard to the community to enjoy Croatian music, grape stomping with their feet and entertainment.

And if you're lucky to be a neighbour of the winery you will no doubt have a Nooyen on your doorstep with a bottle of wine as a friendly welcome.

It is no wonder that many have arrived with tears in their eyes wanting to pitch in.

The Nooyen family is loved by all those they have hosted, toasted and roasted – in a loving way.

It's the Nooyen family that people come to see when they arrive at the Vilagrad doors; it's what draws them in.

As he stares out to the vineyard, Jacob knows the pressure is on to get the job done.

 "You just have to remain focussed and get stuck in. Get it done. It's the kind of attitude I can imagine Ivan Senior would have had." 

 - Stuff

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