Friday, November 7, 2014

Thames (NZ): 1929 - The first Chinese winemaker in NZ

The Hauraki Herald today (7 November 2014), published an obituary for a past Thamesite which reminded us all of the important role that the early Chinese played in the business community. From market gardens in the town and surrounding district, to produce shops and a vineyard.

In 1925 Joe Ah Chan began growing grapes at Totara and established Gold Leaf Vineyards. To finance this venture he continued to grow and sell tomatoes and vegetables, and purchased a further 22 acres in the Kauaeranga Valley to expand his market gardens. In 1929, with assistance from Andrew Sinkovich, a wine-maker from Henderson, Ah Chan produced his first batch of 1,000 gallons of wine. He was reputedly the first Chinese wine-maker in the southern hemisphere. Source: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

In 1950 Ah Chan sold the vineyard to a distant kinsman, Stanley Young Chan, who changed its name to Totara Vineyards SYC. It was the obituary for Stanley Young Chan's wife Janet Chan that appeared in todays Hauraki Herald newspaper. The obituary written by H Wong, mentioned that "Janet and her extended family arrived in Auckland on 10 October 1939." The families having escaped the horrors of the Japanese War.

A photo of the refugees arrival appeared in the New Zealand Herald on 11 October 1939. The caption for the photo below read:
War refugees arrive from China. Some of the party of 30 Chinese refugees from the Canton area who have been brought to the Dominion by relatives in New Zealand.
For a full report of their arrival - click here

Totara Vineyards at 229 Ngati Maru Highway, Totara, Thames, New Zealand
Further information on the Chan families at:
The Chinese Digital Community
Thames Pre 1930 Business Register at The Treasury
Book: Har Gee Chans in New Zealand
Totara Vineyards & SYC Limited

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