Torlesse Wines in Waipara is among vineyards benefiting from Cheeky Kea Tours change in direction.
Switching to winery visits has proved a savvy move for Cheeky Kea Tours owner Jesse Holmes.
On the eve of lockdown he pulled out of buying a backpacker lodge and curtailed plans to expand his fledgeling backpacker adventure tour and rental vehicle enterprise.
Trips to Canterbury wineries, originally aimed at cruise passengers funnelled into Christchurch via Lyttelton Port’s new cruise berth, were supposed to be a sideline use for Cheeky Kea’s vans during quiet times, but they are now the main source of income.
Holmes’ engineering job at Air New Zealand was helping fund the growing business, but he lost that mid-year as a result of Covid-19 cutbacks, and has been pleasantly surprised at the level of local support for transport to vineyard lunches and tastings.
* Lyttelton Port Company profit up, but dividend to city council down
* Prices at a premium as wine company invests in ‘vast’ valley vineyard
* Neat Places: Waipara Valley wineries
* Drinking in North Canterbury’s goods
In the past six weeks 360 people have visited Waipara cellars with Cheeky Kea Tours which charges about $86 a head for a group of 10 which covers transport, lunch, snacks and tastings at three wineries.
“The local market was not something we were looking at. We’re getting young people in their twenties, right through to retirement village residents.”
Holmes said he had added a stop at a Kaiapoi brewery to satisfy some of his male customers.
“The guys never want to go on a wine tasting tour, but at the end of it, they’re often the ones who’ve had the most fun.”
Groups wanting to make an occasion of it can hire a few extra “toys” including a mobile wood fired hot tub on a trailer, bean bags, barbecues, and an outdoor movie setup for overnight stays.
Holmes said he was able to continue operating at Alert Level 2 with appropriate physical distancing.
Vineyards are grateful the tour operator is bringing custom direct to their cellar doors.
Co-owner of Torlesse Wines Kym Rayner said the bonus of visiting New Zealanders is that they often became repeat customers, continuing to buy the wine they tasted.
Jill Chapman at Terrace Edge winery said internationals tended to come during the shoulder seasons, and with a couple of other winery tour operators pulling out since Covid-19, the Cheeky Kea venture brought welcome business.
“Those direct sales we can make are very valuable, and we value having people we can interact directly with in the tasting room.”
Holmes is adding four Selwyn wineries to his itineraries, and as demand requires he subcontracts trips to other local tour companies whose drivers or vehicles would otherwise be idle.
Work is also underway to establish an online store specialising in Canterbury wines with a central city tasting event planned.
Holmes is already thinking ahead and will attempt to fill that gap with day ski packages to Mt Hutt.