A Berry Good Tipple

Anthony Barker’s Winemaking Adventures

Anthony Barker subscribed to the UK publication ‘The Amateur Winemaker’ where elderberries were proclaimed to produce one of the best non-grape red wines.

The rich-coloured elderberry was used as long ago as medieval times when ‘black mead’, a potent concoction made from elderberries and honey, was enjoyed by kings and commoners alike. It was a compelling economic argument that the humble elderberry, growing profusely in the Te-Moana Riverbed bordering Anthony’s farm could be harvested for free!

As volumes outgrew the family’s harvesting efforts, pickers were paid 10 cents a pound. In 1969 Barker’s Wines was born and 1,200 gallons of dry red elderberry wine was made.

The cowshed and piggery were transformed into the winery. An old washing machine was converted for drying corks, a vacuum cleaner was adapted in conjunction with a diesel burner for the quick heating of the coppers to boil fruit and a reel-cut mower was modified to pump wine into vats.

Within four years 30,000 bottles were sold annually and the cellar door attracted around 20,000 visitors each year. With severe hay fever and being less inclined to face the rigours of daily crop farming, Anthony leased out his farm, allowing him to focus all his energy on wine making.

The red table wines and fortified wines were barrel aged; root ginger and spice extracts were used to make red vermouth style aperitifs. A fortified Negus, to be enjoyed the same way as sherry or port was also introduced into the range.

Named after Colonel Negus, who was an eighteenth century proponent of elderberry wines, Cream Negus, Spiced Negus and Ginger Negus joined the growing line-up.

A ready-to-heat mulled wine (fondly known as Mountain Thunder) was created for skiers who regularly called in for tastings en route. It wasn’t long before private motorists, groups (including school groups) and large tour parties came to sample and see how the wine was made.

As Barker’s wines became better known, stocks couldn’t be allowed to run down and the production of elderberry medium and dry, the Negus aperitifs and a cooking wine was kept up to speed. During the first few years of operation the price of a bottle of elderberry wine was under $2.00.

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