Mike Almquist, who built a winery in Washington state in 2008 and added a distillery a year later, bought the Mount Soho Winery property from original owners Ed and Carol Lamont in 2018.
The property, bordering McDonnell and Hogans Gully Rds, is best known for its Mount Soho reception venue (renamed Vingard); however, it has also been licensed for wine storage and a cellar door since 2005.
It is understood that the Lamonts have made wine from their grapes two or three times, and Almquist has also made wine twice, “but I quickly realized that the building is more of a beautiful modern chapel than a winery modern”.
The building is not suitable for renovation, he says, so he instead chose a site in a ravine, “so no one would see it”, for a new building that would also include a wine tasting and cafe/ restaurant.
He commissioned Wyatt + Gray Architects of Queenstown to design a large shed-like building that blended into the rural surroundings.
It would be invisible from McDonnell Rd, and although you could see the roof from Hogans Gully Rd, it would ultimately be hidden by “a forest full of beech trees”.
The building would also be environmentally friendly with an extensive array of solar panels.
Around 75% of the facility – with a floor area of around 1,200 square meters – would be dedicated to winemaking, with nearly half of the space used for barrel storage.
Almquist submitted his resource consent request in February of this year.
Then, after a local ‘threatened’ his council consent consultant to judicial review if his non-notified application was approved, he changed it to a fully-notified application.
He says he is “very puzzled and frustrated” with the planning process.
“I’ve never experienced this before, and it tears your teeth out, it’s very difficult.
“The New Zealand government has said it wants talented immigrants to come and set up businesses.
“My consent application will ultimately take almost a year and cost over $100,000.
“It was not what I expected moving halfway around the world, buying a winery already consented to make Central Otago wine.”
Almquist notes that it’s surrounded on one side by the planned Hogans Gully golf resort and on the other by a retirement village, “so I’m not sure how a winery on rural land, making wine at from the grapes of the vineyards on my site, is such a no-no, especially since it has been granted since 2005”.
Several neighbors have filed objections on the grounds that the winery/distillery is “a commercial industry activity” unsuitable in a rural area – Warren and Lisa Bates, for example, call it a factory.
Peter and Tiffany Campbell claim that they would not have invested in the area if they had known that an activity of this nature could be established.
“Commercial use of this building will cause significant adverse effects on residential amenities,” they say, including opening hours (until 10 p.m.), traffic (with bus parking and 27 spaces parking spaces), noise and light pollution (cars leaving at 10 p.m.).
Almquist says wine and spirits production would not be noisy and would only operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, while glass and grape deliveries would only last 14 hours a year.