By ROBYN BRISTOW
Waipara Hills and summer concerts are now synonymous.
And this part of the business owes much to Jenny Anderson who grasped the opportunity to open the North Canterbury landmark for concerts when the business was approached back in 2007 to host Joe Cocker.
Jenny, who retired from Waipara Hills as Functions manager and Cellar Door and Cafe manager last Friday, says when approached, the then chief executive asked “how on earth” the venue could host a concert.
“I told him if we didn’t take the opportunity now, we would never get another one,” she says.
The carpark and a “rough old paddock” nearby, that was never used, became the venue. Grapevines were subsequently removed from alongside the impressive architecturally designed building and it became the home of concerts, which are now held annually.
Concerts were just one of the exciting developments Jenny experienced in her 17 years. It began life as Canterbury House in 2000 when the imposing, architecturally designed winery began to take shape at the northern end of the Glasnevin Straight on SH1.
Jenny popped along to help out one day but a trip overseas with her partner Alex Wyllie intervened.
“I helped out and had a look at the place and it was pretty neat and I met some lovely people,” says Jenny.
But she vowed to Alex that one day she would return to “nurture” the venue, which became the MudHouse in 2006, owned by Waipara Hills. It rebranded to become Waipara Hills in 2014.
Jenny says it owes its life to Micheal Reid, a radiologist who worked for NASA.
“It was his dream and he was was to bring his family over. But he then had a tragedy in the family and it never eventuated.
“He came over and stayed for weeks at a time,” says Jenny. But as time went by more growth and development was needed from someone with different skills and it changed hands.
Jenny, who had always been in hospitality and was catering on her own account, departed North Canterbury for South Africa with Alex, where they owned and ran a restaurant while Alex coached rugby.
Alex went on to coach in Argentina and Ireland and when Jenny was not with him she stayed home and looked after the farm doing the lambing and “tractor work and stuff”
She also returned to Waipara Hills to help out and 17 years later she has been instrumental in helping it grow and develop to meet the tourism and concert market.
“It has been a long haul and it’s changed a lot,” says Jenny who turned the temporary cellar door into a permanent one and instigated the removal of a concrete wall and divided the huge area with shelving, put in glassed in cloisters and paved a grassed area where people now enjoy dining.
“And I added beautiful Summer Dream Roses we had at the farm to the outdoor dining area,” says Jenny.
Her fondest memories are of the UB 40 concert when 8200 people turned up and Blondie and the Pretenders that attracted 8700.
The concerts returned funding to the community with all local schools and groups benefitting through helping out on the night with rubbish, car parking and many other tasks.
“Rather than employing people, we gave back to the community. If we don’t have the community, we don’t have anything,” she says.
Jenny attributes her success in her job to knowing everything about the business,, “even if you have to start as the sweeper and doing dishes”. It’s important to know every aspect from working in the cafe to knowing how to pour wine.
“Then you can help train people and get respect from people because they know that you know,” she says.
Jenny says it is a “perfect” time to leave Waipara Hills.
“I feel I have done everything I can here but I still have lots of energy,” she says.
Her daughter and son-in-law are going to be managing a luxury boutique Bed and Breakfast and wedding/function centre at Kirwee and she will support them in the venture, but is looking forward to playing bowls, having time together with Alex and helping out on their Omihi farm.