Experts oppose subdivision in wine-growing area

Houses or vines? Opponents believe subdividing this Earnscleugh paddock will reduce its value as a prime viticulture block. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
Houses or vines? Opponents believe subdividing this Earnscleugh paddock will reduce its value as a prime viticulture block. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
Two Masters of Wine have thrown their weight behind opposition to subdividing an Earnscleugh property described as premium wine-producing land.

Johnny and Pam Chapman have applied to subdivide their Earnscleugh Rd ''Como Villa'' property into lots of 1.88ha, 0.76ha and 1.16ha. The first lot would contain the existing dwelling, established vineyard and the Como Villa historical building, cellar door venue and associated buildings.

Building platforms would be identified on each of the remaining two bare-land blocks. The Central Otago District Council's hearing panel will consider the application next Tuesday. Three submissions were received, including one from neighbouring vineyard Grasshopper Rock, and all opposed the plans.

''The subject property is in the midst of what is becoming internationally acclaimed vineyard land,'' Grasshopper Rock managing director Phil Handford said, Two Masters of Wine, Bob Campbell, of Auckland, and Tim Atkin, of England, support Grasshopper Rock's submission and objected to the use of the Earnscleugh land for building sites rather than for a vineyard.

''The potential loss of 2ha of outstanding vineyard land represents a serious and irreplaceable loss to Alexandra as it does indeed to New Zealand wine,'' Mr Campbell said. Pinot noir, particularly Central Otago pinot noir, was lifting this country's international wine profile, he said.

Mr Atkin said Grasshopper Rock made one of the best examples of Central Otago pinot noir and anything that might compromise its outstanding quality ''should be resisted by urban planners and wine lovers alike''.

Mr Handford said the productive capacity of the land should be maintained and the subdivision would have a negative effect on the open space, landscape, natural character and amenity values of the area. Grasshopper Rock was originally part of the Como Villa property.

Few people appreciated how significant the Central Otago wine industry was to the local economy.

The area of Earnscleugh Rd between Chapman Rd and Conroys Rd had unique geography and climate that were ''high value'' for producing premium pinot noir, he said. The two other opposing submissions, from G. Finn and K. Duncan,

of Cromwell, and Marian Weaver, of Dunedin, were concerned about the fragmentation of a rural holding and the increased ''domestication'' of the rural resource area and said the subdivision was contrary to the district plan. In their application, the Chapmans said they wanted to focus on their cellar door business and develop the potential of the historic site.

The balance of the land was surplus to their needs. All of the neighbouring property owners, except for Grasshopper Rock, had approved the plans. The area was already a well-established ''lifestyle block'' area.

Council planning consultant David Whitney said vineyards were established to the south and west of the site and the proposed subdivision would have an adverse effect on the productive use of the land.

He recommended the council refuse consent because the adverse effects on the environment would be significant and granting consent would be contrary to the objectives and policies of the district plan.

-lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz