A step inside the beautiful, sun-drenched wooden cellar door
area and tasting room of Waitiri Creek Wines in Gibbston is
to instantly feel a sense of serenity, a gentle reminder of
its original incarnation as the Wangaloa Presbyterian Church.
It's not just due to the aroma of dozens of freshly baked
Christmas cakes being wrapped on the table in the centre of
the room but a mood ingrained in the rimu of the 118-year-old
Waitiri Creek co-owner Paula Ramage, of Arrowtown, said she
feels the same ambience when she and her staff work in the
premises serving a delicious variety of wine and food.
Ms Ramage and her husband, Alistair Ward, had already bought
their slice of the valley and planted their first vines in
1993 when they started looking for a building three years
''We'd always believed there's such majestic beauty here, we
didn't want to compete with that,'' she said, in a rare break
from welcoming visitors.
''We wanted something simple, preferably historical, and so
our options were an old school, or a church, but we felt that
a church had more character and seemed quite fitting for the
''It took us five years.
''We went on a church hunt which took in the lower part of
the South Island.
''We went as far north as up around Amberley and people would
phone us and say there's one here, do you want to have a
look, and we'd jump in the car and find out a couple of times
it was a brick church and that was no good - it had to be
The couple were starting to wonder if their dream would ever
In desperation, they approached the owner of an old church
now used for storage at Raes Junction, between Alexandra and
Gore, ''but there were more gaps than there was building''
and anyway the owner did not want to sell, Ms Ramage said.
However, the farmer recommended a church in Wangaloa, a
hamlet on the coast near Balclutha.
''It was really rough. They had removed all the windows on
what is now the southern side,'' she recalled.
''There was an unattractive stucco toilet block attached, it
had a 1970s ceiling which had been dropped in and the vaulted
ceiling removed, the roof was completely munted and it came
with pews and table and no other accoutrements.
''Being Presbyterian, it was pretty austere. All of the rimu
tongue and groove walls were covered in shellac. The windows
were all plain glass, some of them original, but all of them
''The floor was solid, but it hasn't changed because we quite
like how it harks back to farm use and tells a story of a
Sensitive negotiations with the tiny community to buy the
dilapidated building took 12 months, she said.
Queenstown builder Rick Pettit and team lifted the church in
one piece, minus its roof, and put it on to a truck ready to
cart it hundreds of kilometres to its new home.
''The first good news was it didn't collapse immediately when
it was taken off its foundations,'' Ms Ramage said.
''We always joke that the borer held hands.''
The deconsecrated church on wheels travelled through Gore and
Kingston and navigated the winding road known as the Devil's
Staircase without falling into Lake Wakatipu, as feared.
It arrived at Waitiri Creek at Easter 2000 and a few parties
were held to celebrate.
The structure was allowed to settle into its new climate for
12 months before the roof was the first major renovation job
tackled by Mr Pettit and staff. The original doors were
swapped from the south side to the north. Missing windows
were recreated while paint and shellac was scraped off other
windows and walls by hand.
The ceiling became part-vaulted again as an educated guess,
as there were no photographs of the original interior.
Wood was coated with Danish wax and the honey-cream palette
for the window frames and trimming came from a surviving
The open-air, wood-fired pizza area was added outside the
former church. Risers and decking outside were built as
additional seating facing the cricket wicket, which was
finished last year.
While accommodation was never part of the plan, a commercial
kitchen was fitted in the former vestry and a detached block
in keeping with the church was built nearby to become the
office, along with a storage and toilet block.
''But this was the centrepiece and it was all about making it
look like it always belonged here and it's certainly fooled a
lot of people,'' Ms Ramage.
''December 28 is the 11th anniversary it officially opened as
a cellar door and food came a little under 12 months later.
''It's been used for weddings, private dinners, corporate
gigs, two Gibbston Harvest Festivals and as a location for
Yamaha, Ferrari and Mazda commercials, but 2013 is the first
year we're going to be hosting the Classic Hits Winery Tour
and we're all excited about that.''
The winery tour's Central Otago concert moves from Olssen's
Vineyard, Bannockburn, this year to the larger venue of
Waitiri Creek next year, for a concert starring The Adults,
also known as Jon Toogood, Julia Deans and Shayne Carter, the
supergroup of Anika Moa, Boh Runga and Hollie Smith, plus
headliners Fat Freddy's Drop.
''It's going to be a really big day and we'll be playing our
part and we just hope the public play theirs by not going in
the vineyard and not going nuts,'' Ms Ramage said with a
''I've known the promoter for a long time and we're working
closely to make it a success.
''We're both pretty excited about the potential for this site
and it all has to be all right on the night.''