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Whakatane wine connoisseurs developed such a taste for Tony and Jutta Firmin’s fruit wines the couple installed their own winery at their White Goose Orchard at Awakeri.

The Firmins have owned the orchard for nearly 30 years but they only began using their fruit for wine-making purposes 13 years ago, not long before they opened their restaurant.

They grow strawberries, blueberries and feijoas to make both still and sparkling wines but Tony is halfway through planting a block of blackberries and he’s also put in 75 plum trees with more on order for next year.

Until recently the wine was made on the Firmin’s behalf by other wineries but Tony studied for his certificate in wine production by correspondence a couple of years ago while his daughter and her husband ran the restaurant.

Now he has received the go-ahead from the local authorities, and the Customs Department to make his own wine.

He has brought in equipment from Italy and although he describes his operation as just a “boutique winery” he says the machinery he’s using is the same as that used by the bigger wineries only on a smaller scale.

“One piece of equipment doesn’t look that large but it’s capable of crushing and mincing between 800 to 1000 kilos of fruit an hour.”

Tony says to begin with he will he trying to meet local demand for his fruit wines without worrying about the export market.

“At this stage we can’t make enough for our customers and we’re temporarily out of stock of both blueberry sparkling and feijoa still wine although I’m hoping to have some more bottled for Christmas.

Although the Firmins don’t export their wine some of it still ends up overseas.

A visitors’ book at the restaurant has been signed in recent weeks by customers from all over the world and Tony says many have bought a bottle or two to take home with them.

“Strawberry wine is the most popular followed closely by feijoa.”

Tony says he and Jutta have been invited to display their wines at a Food and Wine Fair near Auckland next month and with thousands expected to attend Tony says it will hopefully help promote Whakatane as well as their product. The English-born grandfather, who has been a sales rep and sharemilker in the past as well as orchardist and restaurateur, says he’s very excited at this new direction life is taking. “It just goes to prove that you’re never too old to change your career!”

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