Dr Alan Limmer, Hall of Fame Recipient 2019

One of the founding fathers of Hawke’s Bay Wine industry, Dr Limmer is the man who went against the odds and helped put Gimblett Gravels on the winemaking map.


Dr Limmer spent two years battling a shingle company for land in what is now one of Hawke’s Bay’s premier and unique wine locations.

Back in the 1980s Mr Limmer saw the potential in a piece of land on Mere Rd near Bridge Pa for winemaking.  The land at that point was cheap to purchase as it was deemed as useless and only good for things like a rubbish dump.

With a masters in earth science and a doctorate in soil
science, Mr Limmer had a gut feeling it would be perfect for a vineyard along with fellow viticulturist Chris Pask.

“I just took an educated guess and saw something in
that piece of land so I lodged an application to the council and asked them to change the zoning so it could be preserved.”

Just as council was about to reach the hearing an
application from a shingle company was launched for the same piece of land.  The work Mr Limmer had done with attempting to get the land rezoned went right to the bottom of the council's list and he had to save
Gimblett Gravels from becoming an extraction site.

"I basically had to buy in to the one fight I wanted to
avoid. I got the mayor and planners in to show that it was something worth preserving and would be valuable in the future.  I just said to them why do we have to fight it, can we not instead review it."

With the council not budging, both Mr Limmer and the shingle company went to the Appeal Court in what turned out to be longest appeal hearing the court had heard.

Mr Limmer was not only faced with legal barriers but also fellow winemakers who thought his point of view had no future in the industry.  "They told the judge I would go broke and it was an uneconomic battle to buy in to as the land was useless for grapes anyway."

This was because winemakers back in the 80s believed the best vines grew in high fertile soils alongside apples and kiwifruit.  "The industry focused on high production with low quality grapes. The district scheme viewed viticulture like horticulture which from the land's point of view was the total opposite."

He said those already in the wine industry stuck with what they knew so took the side of the gravel company.  Even his own lawyer only gave him a 20 per cent chance of winning the hearing.

"It wasn't exactly the odds you wanted to go in to battle with. It was an uphill struggle and the outcome was far from certain. I think the decision came as a surprise to both of us."

After two long years the gravel company lost the council hearing contest.

The court provided a landmark planning decision - the first it had issued based on the premise the land had 'national importance'.  It was the only such decision the court had issued under this statute, and it was the only piece of planning law Mr Limmer had to rely upon to gain a victory.

"The land in question had never even had a grapevine on it so it was a tall hurdle to jump. It turned out to be a brave decision by the court."

After the win Mr Limmer began Stonecroft Wines Limited and created the first winery in the area.  He had a love for red wines and again beat the odds by pioneering syrah which was first released at Stonecroft in 1989.

He "rescued" some vines and planted the first syrah in the stony Gimblett Gravels region.  "The syrah vine took off on the land and it just went from there. People told me shiraz would never grow in New Zealand like it does in Australia and now look at it. It was all experimental but paid off."

Looking back on his battle to save New Zealand's wine
industry, he said it was a long road but was justified by the way the Gimblett Gravels operates today.  At that point you just didn't know how it was going to go. When I first challenged the council for the land, I only had four or five vintages to my name, Chris Pask had four and the land was unplanted."

Mr Limmer went on to serve as chairman of the Hawke's Bay Vintners for three years and was a board member of the Wine Institute of New Zealand and subsequently New Zealand Winegrowers for Category 1 wineries for 12 years.

He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004 for his services to the wine industry.  "I was very surprised and didn't know anything about being nominated. It all came out the blue. I thought I had been long forgotten," Mr Limmer said.


Dr Alan Limmer
Photo : Dr Alan Limmer

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