Farming to Elderberry Wine

Diversification was in the minds of some farmers as long ago as the 1960’s.

In the space of 30 years Upton Farm at Pleasant Valley in South Canterbury, became Upton Cellars, Barker’s Wines and finally the prodigious Barker Fruit Processors Ltd with a reputation for producing nothing but the best.

Anthony Barker, founder of the company with his wife Gillian, took a brave step in 1969 when he decided to try his hand at commercial wine making. The couple had been thinking for some time that they should either buy more land or give up farming.

Anthony suffered from severe hay fever and found himself less inclined to face the rigours of crop farming, especially tractor driving. He was seriously underweight; in fact too light to qualify for a life insurance policy at that time.

Experimenting with various fruit wines was a long-time hobby. Making good use of his home-grown produce was in the blood and Anthony picked up many a hint from his mother, Constance, affectionately known around the district as “Mrs Put-it-in-the-copper Barker!” Everything from soap to beer to pigs’ brawn was created in the trusty copper.

The family believed in home preserves. Their home at Waihi Gorge boasted a good vegetable garden and orchard. Anthony remembers damson brandy maturing and his daily job of rolling the cask around with his foot. “A good brew,” he recalls, “but it used a lot of sugar.”

For some time when his mother was not well it was Anthony’s job to run the household – literally chief cook and bottle washer, but a good time to play around with fruity recipes. He remembers once, when he was only thirteen, the vicar called to find him earnestly wine making. This interest and his knowledge continued to grow and, as the years passed so his reputation grew as one of the most respected specialists in the business.

Boiling elderberries in one of two tin-lined coppers

Boiling elderberries in one of two tin-lined coppers

Anthony discussed the fruit wine-making idea with his farm adviser from Timaru, Eric Etwell, who was supportive from the outset. It was a gamble, of course, but such support from a respected friend gave Anthony and Gillian the courage to go ahead. Such was Eric’s faith in the project that he became company secretary, a position he held, working largely from his own home, for almost 20 years.

Some years later he said it had been a privilege to have seen the company through the difficulties and pressures that laid the foundations for the present highly successful business.

With encouragement also from Timaru grocer and wine retailer, Doug Shears, who took a keen interest in Anthony’s hobby, Anthony applied for and obtained a wine-making licence. One or two strange conditions applied, one being the inclusion of an imperial gallon measure in the winery.

The Timaru plumbing firm, Hadlee and Brunton, was commissioned to design and make this imposing narrow-necked copper receptacle. It was used as a measure “once or twice’ and, before long found a place in the Barker home where it is still used as an occasional flower container.