Three Decades of Brick Bay
Early in December the Didsburys threw a party. They were celebrating thirty years of shared stewardship of what was, in 1986, a raw chunk of land and is now lush with grapevines, regenerating native bush, productive orchards and gardens. Studding the landscape, making it more than just a farm, is exceptional art and architecture. And all the people at the party – around a hundred – were instrumental in helping to accomplish this metamorphosis.
Richard Didsbury is enthusiastic about the strong feeling of ownership many of these friends and family members have for Brick Bay. “Kids grew up here; some still think of it as their place,” he says happily. “And it was, actually, as much as ours. Brick Bay has been a kind of home for many.” This January it’ll be ten years since the Glass House and Sculpture Trail opened, but twenty years of hard work came before that.
Two hundred acres of land were purchased by Richard and Christine in 1986; they’d only been looking for a small plot, but realised the potential of this extraordinary site with its historical background. In the mid-nineteenth century there had been a busy little community based around the brickworks on the beach. But nearly 150 years later, the brickworks were gone (although traces remain) and the unfenced land was dissipated. There were thistles in their hundreds, and what bush had been spared by the early settlers was being given a hard time by cattle.
The Didsburys moved a caravan on to the spot where the ‘Big House’ would eventually be finished over ten years later, and with their two small girls, Margot and Anna, began spending weekends on the farm. They fenced off the precious bush, and friends and family were drafted in to plant trees in their thousands – their hard work rewarded with plenty of fun and huge shared barbecues.
The cattle were moved out and angora goats bought to graze the land, but the meat was not popular and the mohair market promptly crashed. Inspired by the other early adopters in the area (Heron’s Flight and The Antipodean), the Didsburys turned to grapes. The willing workers were drafted back in to plant the first vines (as well as olives) in 1995. Fortunately, the wine proved to be excellent. The goats were replaced with sheep which were easy on the land (and popular too in the Glass House restaurant).
A few years down the track, they thought they should probably build “a little wine-tasting room, and something else to make people want to come and visit.” Architect Noel Lane was asked to design what would become The Glass House, and the couple decided to indulge their internationally-ignited passion for outdoor sculpture as ‘that little something extra’.
Noel Lane had already, of course, built their home, and they trusted him enough to give him a basic brief for the tasting room and not much more. Richard and Christine thought that visitors should be able to see the vines as they were drinking the wine; to feel part of the terroir (the unique environmental characteristics that produce a particular wine). Noel took this literally, producing a contemporary version of an actual glasshouse, and with Rob Dunne the builder, bravely cantilevering his beautiful, award-winning vision over a lake full of water-lilies.
“He’s one of a very rare breed of architect.” Richard screws his eyes shut to find the right words. “It’s not that he brings nothing to the table – he has incredible talent – but he designs each piece of work to fit its particular brief without feeling the need to impose his own style. You’d never know that Matakana Village and the Glass House at Brick Bay were designed by the same man.”
At this point in time, the whole Matakana area was beginning to look like it might become a bona fide wine region – but it had no real epicenter and, apart from the beaches, there was really not much to do. Serendipitously, the corner site at Matakana Valley Rd and Leigh Rd became available – and the idea for the village was born. Richard admits, “It’s such an enormous responsibility when you make a decision that will impact on so many lives; it is human nature to resist change. But hopefully most people are happy with it now.”
While the village and Glass House builds were going ahead, Anna Didsbury, now in her twenties, was involved in designing the Sculpture Trail over at Brick Bay. Anna had studied sculpture at Elam (and viticulture too, including working a vintage in Burgundy, France; this has certainly come in handy). She and her father, plus long-time farm and vineyard manager Brian Breen, spent hours tracking through the bush and paddocks with tape, stakes and paint, mapping out the route and planning dams, lakes and boardwalks.
One of the main purposes of the Sculpture Trail (apart from being an exceptional showcase for the art) is to support NZ artists. The Brick Bay Sculpture Trust is a special fund set up to facilitate the creation of their work – building some of the large-scale pieces can be prohibitively expensive. All pieces on the trail are for sale and, once their piece is sold, the artist pays the Trust back their interest-free loan. The Annual Brick Bay Folly competition is another valuable opportunity for aspiring young architects to realise their concepts and get them into the public eye.
The ongoing programme of sustainably nurturing the land at Brick Bay has evolved into a firm goal of environmental stewardship for future generations. The baton has been passed to Anna Didsbury, now General Manager. Anna has a keen interest in sustainability and puts it to good use, both in the vineyard and in the Glass House Kitchen. Minimal sprays are used on the vines, and biodiversity is encouraged in a number of ways. Food waste from the restaurant is enjoyed by the farm’s pigs and hens, and the kitchens and bathrooms use biodegradable products and palm oil-free soaps. Much produce, including fruit, vegetables, olive oil and honey is produced onsite and as much as possible is recycled.
These two generations of the Didsburys (with a third in the wings) have a passionate, long-term commitment to a much-loved landscape – and a community. As Christine says, “The thing is never to assume that you know it all, but to surround yourself with exceptionally creative people with whom you can collaborate. It’s been the most wonderful privilege to be part of it all.”
Brick Bay is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of summer events.