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Rodney district's role in history of Liquour Reforms

by Sue Courtney
(Published in the "Rodney Times" on December 9th 1999)

December 1st 1999 will go down in history as a significant date in the annals of liquor reforms in New Zealand. The legal drinking age is lowered to 18 and supermarkets are permitted to sell beer. Sales on Sundays, which have been restricted to wineries since 1992, is extended to all retailers.

So it is timely to reflect on the significant roles a Rodney wine merchant, Charles Levet, and a Rodney MP, Seymour George, had to play in the steps to this historic event. *

When Charles Levet arrived in Wellsford from England in 1863, he was determined to make wine. He found a property on the river about 8 miles inland from the Port Albert wharf. With the help of his son, William, the bush was cleared and the vineyard was planted. Eventually the Levets were producing their vinous products - wine made mostly from the red grape Isabella, a little sherry and some fruit wines.

The licensing act at the time provided for wine sales from hotels only. But this was Albertland country, a place of abstinence and there were no hotels in the district.

It was the Rodney MP who took up the case in 1879 and the amendment to the Licensing Laws took affect in 1881. This allowed winemakers to sell from their vineyards for off-license consumption, so long as the quantity was two gallons or more - hence the 2g- flagon. However shops in the city's suburbs were permitted to open for the sale of local wine, for consumption both on- and off-premise.

A Frenchman from Alsace by the name of Israel Wendel, opened the country's first on-license and it was to his wine bar in Karangahape Road that the Levets shipped their wine, by barrel on barge from Port Albert to Onehunga via the treacherous West Coast seas.

The product was widely acclaimed and much of the wine was consumed at Government House. The Earl of Glasgow, the governor in office from 1892 - 1897, gave the Levets permission to name their property the "Lord Glasgow Vineyards".

These days little trace of New Zealand's first commercial vineyard remain and Isabella is no longer used in New Zealand as a wine-making grape.

However we can remember these pioneers for their significant role in the history of New Zealand wine, the history of liquor licensing and the history of Rodney.

*Source: Winemakers of New Zealand by Dick Scott, published 1964.

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