A neighbour said the fire was first noticed by another neighbour who had got up to check on her baby. Photo / Supplied
A neighbour said the fire was first noticed by another neighbour who had got up to check on her baby. Photo / Supplied

'Oh God, save the wine': Historic vineyard up in flames

A PIECE of Waikato's winery history went up in flames this morning after a huge blaze destroyed a large portion of Vilagrad Winery.

Firefighting operations at the scene were scaled down about 7am. Two fire crews, and volunteer support staff, will remain at the scene throughout the day.

But earlier this morning, flames and smoke from the fiery blaze could be seen on the horizon from kilometres away.

The fire was so big that it eventually went to a fourth alarm this morning due to the large amount of crews involved and the need to rotate tiring firefighters already on the ground.

Boxes of smashed and charred wine bottles could be seen strewn inside one of the storage sheds, when the Herald was walked through the scene just after 5am today.

Inside the restaurant, the canvas roofing was left melted and hanging from the remains of the ceiling, giving a view into the sky.

About 90 per cent of the building is estimated by firefighters as being damaged.

Vilagrad Winery winemaker and co-owner Jacob Nooyen said although he and his family were shocked by what happened he was stoked that firefighters were able to save his precious winemaking equipment.

He said the family were all hard workers and are determined to re-build.

"Dad's in there now trying to tidy up," he said.

Mr Nooyen said there was enough of the restaurant that was salvageable to get a mobile kitchen up and running in the next month or so.

He hoped to back in business by about October, or before the festive season.

When asked his first thoughts about the fire, after being horrified, he then thought about the wine.

"I was like 'oh God, save the wine', because I'm a winemaker there's so much we put into wines ... It's disappointing but that's part of a fire. The fire brigade did a great job to maintain it.

"We've managed to save the restaurant, which is fantastic and most of the winery."

Mr Nooyen said the most heartbreaking aspect of the fire was the loss of precious family heirlooms, stored in the 100-year-old wine cellar which was badly damaged.

"Luckily we've still got a few photos that haven't been burnt, but we've lost pictures of my great grandfather and my grandfather and my grandmother's wedding. Hopefully we can get copies on the (Internet)."

Mr Nooyen said he and the family had been overwhelmed by well wishers and the local community who had been offering their support and help.

"Yeah, like on Facebook there's already hundreds of comments, if not thousands, from people who have experienced events here, weddings, Christmas parties, in fact half the fire team have been here for various events."

Mr Nooyen said he was really tired and would shoot home soon for a rest.

"I'll probably go and have a glass of port and have a couple hours' sleep."

Earlier estimates by the fire service, during the early hours of the morning, that 90 per cent of the premises were destroyed could now be lowered to about 60 or 70 per cent, Mr Nooyen said, in the light of day.

"It's pretty devastating for the family at the moment but we are hard workers, we will get this place cleaned up and re-build."

Mr Nooyen said the re-build would be made easier as the structure of the building was so old and made up of mostly brick and concrete.

"So we can see that it's just the roofs that will be replaced, but we will have to clear everything out and re-start. But thank God, you know, the 100-year-old winery can stand the test of time."


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