Upton Cellars: The Converted Cowshed

The Upton Farm cowshed and piggery were converted into the winery where the first wines were made entirely from old-fashioned elderberries.

Elderberry trees flourished around the riverbeds of Canterbury and North Otago, some growing to great heights. It is said these were brought in by early settlers as hedge plants and, maybe, with the thought of some wine making.

The rich coloured elderberry was used as long ago in medieval times when “black mead”, a potent concoction made from elderberries and honey, was enjoyed by kings and commoners alike.

Now in 1969, Anthony Barker mustered his Lincoln College Diploma of Agriculture expertise, his enthusiasm and his ingenuity and became one of the very few makers of pure elderberry wine in the world. He created a unique plant using an extraordinary range of simple home appliances as the initial equipment – an old washing machine converted for drying corks, a vacuum cleaner adapted in conjunction with a diesel burner for the quick heating of coppers to boil fruit and a reel- cut motor mower modified to pump wine into vats.

In those days the only outside help came from local casual pickers employed to scour the countryside for fruit which they sold to Gillian and Anthony for 10 cents a pound.

Young Antony BarkerThere were some people – friends and acquaintances – who looked on in disbelief that such an enterprise could earn anything more than a passing interest. What was this clever fellow up to now? It couldn’t last – too risky – who drinks olde worlde elderberry wine anyway? How wrong the well-meaning sceptics were.

Anthony has produced 1200 gallons of wine even before his licence came through and this he later sold without the need to advertise. Within 4 years 30,000 bottles were sold annually and the Upton Cellars shop attracted around 20,000 visitors each year. By 1971 Anthony had leased out his farm, allowing him to focus all his energy on wine making.

More wines were introduced to join the dry and medium wood-matured table wines, a fortified Negus to be enjoyed in the same way as sherry or port…Cream Negus, Spiced Negus and Ginger Negus.

The Negus range was named after Colonel Negus who was an eighteenth century proponent of elderberry wines. After testing the Barker elderberry selection experts from home and abroad unhesitatingly praised the distinction of “an amazingly good berry wine’.

Quality was a top priority from the beginning. Anthony always stressed, “My wines have not been fiddled with; there are no synthetic colours or flavours.”