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Possibly profitable: Graham Wilkinson's land at Gibbston which he wants to subdivide for up to seven houses

In the first of three reports, MARK PRICE examines the argument over one small development proposed for one of the country’s best-known wine producing regions — Gibbston — and the fears about where it might lead 

Gibbston is known for its wine, its sprinkling of rich and famous residents and its reluctance to go public on the issues that divide it.

But, a glimpse of what goes on behind cellar doors has been provided to Mountain Scene recently by someone signing their email ‘‘Thomas Kinross’’.

Kinross was a pioneer of Gibbston, who died in 1921.

The man using the Kinross name explains he wants to have his say about property  developers turning Gibbston into a ‘‘suburb’’ of ‘‘McMansions’’ but insists on anonymity.

‘‘We are residents, we want to stay that way and cannot afford to confront these developers in court.’’

We meet, off campus, in Arrowtown before taking a tour of the valley, ending up at the current centre of hostilities — an 8.9-hectare piece of land with relics of a vineyard, now overgrown with briar.

There are profile poles in various parts.

The land is owned by Queenstown rich-lister Graham Wilkinson, a former police constable who owns the Sofitel and St Moritz hotels and a chain of retirement villages.

On his Gibbston property next to State Highway 6 he wants to create sections for up to seven houses and also a commercial operation.

His proposal was turned down by the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Environment Court, and he now has a date in September with the High Court.

A win for Wilkinson, says ‘‘Kinross’’, would open the way for hundreds of houses.

‘‘One has only to look at Lake Hayes Estate with 700-plus homes to imagine the future of Gibbston.’’

Constantly changing: Gibbston, pictured in 2018, looking towards the Kawarau Gorge, is awash with plans for development

Asked if he sees his proposal as the thin end of the wedge, Wilkinson says in response: ‘‘If it was the thin edge, you’d probably say the Gibbston [Valley] Resort that is being built is the fat end’’.

The 330ha, $750 million resort at the Queenstown end of the valley got its first consent in 2007.

A spa and lodge have been completed and work is beginning on a nine-hole golf course, 180 visitor-accommodation places and 85 houses.

One of those behind the project, Gibbston Valley Resort chief executive Greg Hunt, says the resort is on colder land, less suitable for grapes, although there will be grapes planted.

Hunt cut his teeth master-planning residential developments in Wanaka, but says the Gibbston venture is far more than that.

It includes visitor and staff accommodation, community facilities and large areas of open spaces where the Gibbston Summer Concert will continue to be held, and a sportsfield could be developed.

Rather than comment on what other landowners in the valley are planning, Hunt says the important thing is that development is ‘‘appropriate’’.

That was the question Judge John Hassan examined in the Wilkinson case with arguments over soil, economics and planning rules.

Wilkinson: ‘‘You’ve got to remember, residential development with no minimum lot size is a
discretionary activity.

‘‘So, in other words, the plan that’s been put together for the Gibbston Valley contemplates … residential development — villas in a vineyard.’’

Next week: The economics of grape growing are more complex than a glass of pinot

ed@scene.co.nz