The new $8 million building is dark brown with a rural exterior somewhat resembling a corrugated iron woolshed.
But the stylish interiors have soaring ceilings, banks of skylights bringing the sunshine in and a grand central A-frame glass-fronted entranceway and wine-tasting area.
NZX-listed Foley Wines, established by American billionaires Bill and Carol Foley, is about to open its new production, storage and hospitality venue in the Wairarapa.
The company has almost completed The Runholder at its Te Kairanga vineyard which Foley bought some years ago when it was making a loss but was also Martinborough’s largest vineyard operator.
Richard Rooney, manager of the exclusive coastal south Wairarapa Wharekauhau Lodge, also owned by the Foleys, last month explained the thinking behind the new building’s layout, design and size.
“There was never any thought it would be pokey. It was always going to be a big space.”
He drove across on April 24 to show off the project which he forecasts will be to the Wairarapa what Mudbrick is to Waiheke and Amisfield is to Central Otago, “because there’s very little in Martinborough that has been built to this scale”.
The Runholder is the new headquarters of Te Kairanga Vineyard, Martinborough Vineyard and Lighthouse Gin, private dining for 12, wine tasting, a 100-seat restaurant, space for a wedding marquee and a storage barrel room.
All this overlooks the vines in the rural setting.
Wharekauhau, which Rooney heads, has been voted one of the world’s best luxury lodges, has hosted the Prince and Princess of Wales and its guests will visit the company’s new Runholder building.
In June 2020, Foley Wines chief executive Mark Turnbull said the business had been working on the new building concept for two years. The winery on Martins Rd would be redeveloped, an old winery building demolished and the new purpose-built facility will go up, he said then.
Trevor Smith is project manager of locally-based head contractor Holmes Construction which built The Runholder. On April 24, he showed how internal fitouts were under way at the two-level building on the edge of the Martinborough Terrace.
The Wairarapa expansion is part of Foley’s growing presence.
Last year, the business announced it had bought the Nourish Group which includes Soul in Auckland’s Viaduct, Andiamo in Herne Bay, Jervois Steak House in Queenstown and Ponsonby, Wellington’s Pravda Cafe and Grill, Shed 5 on Wellington’s Queens Wharf, Britomart’s The Chamberlain, The Crab Shack Wellington, Bistro Lago in Taupō, and Talulah and The Brit in Auckland’s Britomart.
More than 400 people work for the group, which was planned to be sold to NZX-listed Good Spirits Hospitality in a conditional deal announced in 2021 but later axed.
Using scissor platforms, contractors at The Runholder in the Wairarapa were last week nailing ceiling panels on to the statement entranceway with its A-frame internal roof and floor-to-ceiling front and back wall glazing, aligned to frame the view of that famous Martinborough Terrace, renowned for producing fine pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.
A new sub-floor barrel room for Te Kairanga wines was built into the slope and has been in use for two years. Foley Wines calls that an underground room but it was actually built into the back of a hill but tucked beneath and behind the new building so is not immediately obvious on arrival.
Smith said around 50,000 cubic metres of earth was dug out to create the platform for the construction of the 650sq m barrel room. Shingle or gravel-style diggings were removed - excellent for the grapes but heavy for the contractors who piled it up in heaps at the front of the construction site. It has almost now been completely removed in the last two years by contractors for other construction jobs in the area.
“The barrel room had to be built quickly because we’d demolished the previous storage building,” Smith explained of the 1000-plus barrel storage area, finished in March 2021 - spot on time for the autumn production and harvest that year.
That cavernous room has a sturdy, well-reinforced thick concrete floor slab, able to take barrel weights, framed by tilt-a-slab walls, craned in place via a 350-tonne crawler.
Upstairs is an area twice that size, at 1080sq m, which is a multi-faceted gin/wine dining/entertainment production, bottling and storage area.
On May 15, work starts laying the timber oak veneer floor in the main dining area and although some people mentioned a King’s Birthday weekend opening in early June, others said nothing had been decided. It all depends on progress with the internal fitouts.
A private dining area is half a floor below the main restaurant and seats about 12.
A new tiled distillery room for Lighthouse Gin has floor-to-ceiling glass so operations are visible to visitors. New storage and bottling production spaces for the gin are beside that.
The distillery is on the right as you enter and the restaurant/dining venue is on the left off that reception area.
The distillery will provide the space and design to meet demand, with a custom-built copper still commissioned from German distillery manufacturer CARL.
Turnbull said two years ago: “We really wanted to establish a place where people can see the brands and taste the products. We know from Mt Difficulty, which has a strong brand, that so many people have been to the Central Otago vineyard and experienced it.”
Mt Difficulty is also a Foley Wines business.
An outdoor area for a wedding marquee, a new driveway approach replacing the existing limestone-topped internal road, an open fireplace in the main dining area, a wine-tasting area and new car parking are also being developed.
Smith said work on the project started in October 2020 and, although the pandemic slowed progress, the new barrel room was still built at a quickfire pace in time for the following year’s vintage. A storage building dating back to around the 1980s was demolished first.
The Runholder was designed by Christchurch-based hospitality-specialist architect Charlie Nott.
“With Depot Eatery, Best Ugly Bagels and the Amisfield [production centre] in his portfolio, Nott has brought a rich understanding of wineries and hospitality to create a building that will be both functional and inviting,” Foley Wines said, calling the building a new wine and gin destination.
Nott said this month: “It’s a rural-type building, something applicably Martinborough. We didn’t want to make a massive statement. We wanted to make it accessible to everybody.”
The soaring A-framed roof part of the project was to signify entry, “otherwise, people just walk along the building and can’t find the front door. That entryway is the tasting room.”
He has designed buildings for around 20 wineries, and Cable Bay on Waiheke was his first.
Nott also designed the internal fitout for Foley Wines’ new Auckland Somm Wine Bar, opened last week in Shed 22 on Princes Wharf. The name is an abbreviation of the word sommelier.
Smith said the new still was imported from Germany and is now in Martinborough in storage, ready for installation.
Rooney said chef Timothy Smith would run the new restaurant. Smith has previously worked at Wharekauhau, and is a New Zealand-based, Australian-born chef influenced by his childhood upbringing in the natural surroundings of a family beach home in Tasmania.
“His cooking philosophy is deeply rooted in using readily available indigenous ingredients. Living abroad for many years in New Zealand, the United States and most recently Indonesia, this passion for interrogating and celebrating indigenous ingredients has grown exponentially,” his profile says, citing specialisation in the boutique luxury lodge sector and saying he is a chef but has honed skills as a gardener, host, teacher and TV personality.
In the half-year company report out in February, Foley Wines said: “The company is excited to be opening its hospitality development in Martinborough in the coming months, which will be a key strategic initiative in the journey of building the Te Kairanga, Martinborough Vineyard and Lighthouse Gin brands.”
Rooney says of The Runholder’s appearance, design, layout and operation: “It’s very much New Zealand and about a sense of place.”
And with that, he was off back to the lodge where groups of up to 20 Americans are regularly arriving, and Smith was back to the construction site.
Both are hopeful of an imminent opening soon.