Paul Williams outside his business, Wine Freedom, in Water
St. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Paul Williams searched for 11 months to find the right
premises for his new wine business.
But it was not until he walked into the historic NMA building
in Dunedin's warehouse heritage precinct that he ''fell in
While the internet was going to be the ''voice'' for Wine
Freedom, the business needed to have a strong home and the
NMA building fitted the bill.
Describing it as a ''charm'', he said it was probably one of
the more indulgent buildings built in the 1880s period.
The building, owned by Stephen Macknight, had previously been
refurbished and earthquake-strengthened. It had an
''incredible history'' and a lot of Dunedin residents had
memories of it, Mr Williams said.
He had to gain consent from the Dunedin City Council to
establish the new venture, as the proposal went against
district plan rules, which zoned the Water St building for
large-scale retail use.
The retail store, housed in part of the building, has been
open for six weeks in what he described as a contemporary,
clean and modern space.
Originally from Dunedin, Mr Williams left in the 1990s to
follow a career in wine with Montana, working in
Christchurch, Wellington and, most recently London.
His passion for the industry was whetted when he worked at
Robbie Burns in Crawford St and started cleaning glasses when
he was about 17. He then came under the tutelage of Peter
During his two and-a-half years in London the idea for Wine
Freedom was seeded and he returned to New Zealand two days
before the first earthquake struck Christchurch in 2010.
Returning to his old hometown was purely a business decision,
although it was a ''great treat'' to have his brother and
sister in the city, he said.
The aim was to establish a business that served not only
Dunedin but also outlying areas, through internet sales.
While he had to first prove himself locally, the brand and
set-up of the business was built to be transferable - ''it's
a concept that could sit in any city and have some
relevance'' - but that was down the track, as he had to seed
a market first in Dunedin.
He believed he offered something new - ''a new business has
to be innovative'' - and he felt his point of difference was
the destination, his experience and his knowledge of what he
had seen overseas. The response from the wine industry had
been ''really, really positive''.
Wine Freedom was a place where wine and people were ''free to
meet'' and he wanted to remove any snobbery associated with
wine. A Friends of Freedom group had been established.
Mr Williams said it was not a fine wine store - ''I really
dislike the term'' - and prices ranged from $10 to $400 a
A downstairs cellar could be used for tastings and as a
distribution centre and event venue. Two or three tastings
were planned a month, while there were also plans for
Saturday afternoon festivals. He also hoped Central Otago
winegrowers would use it as a venue.
Tastings provided ''a big interaction'' between himself and
the wine community. As well as being educational, it allowed
for people to come in and enjoy themselves.
''Wine is about a bit of a journey. It's got a really nice
story,'' he said.
He was serious about the venture, saying he had not ''come
down to invest for a hobby'' and a lot of planning and
research had gone into it.
''It's nice to take a risk but it's nicer to take a
calculated one. I want to do things properly,'' he said.
His two and a-half years spent overseas was ''incredibly
important'' business-wise. It was a tough time to be in the
industry. It was good at the start, when the market was
growing and the industry was in a younger state, but then a
lot more wine started being produced.
He was fortunate to havelaunched Montana in new markets.
While new markets were great, they did require reasonable
amounts of investment and time to get some traction.
New Zealand's wine industry was very young and he compared it
with people from Alsace who were drinking wine from 1945.
What was needed in New Zealand was vine age.
The industry should give itself a pat on the back and be very
proud of itself and what it had achieved, although it should
never rest on its laurels, he said.
Although he missed London ''terribly'', particularly its
diversity, he loved being back in Dunedin and he believed the
city had ''never been so comfortable with itself''.
He believed it was a good time for the city, although he felt
that it needed to self-publicise more. He was also excited
about the future of the warehouse precinct.