Our History

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Paying tribute to an Otago pioneer

The legacy of Como Villa Estate started with an entrepreneurial pioneer named Thomas Oliver. After moving to Alexandra to pursue opportunities offered by the gold rush era, he purchased the property and built the original stone house that now acts as the cellar door.

Oliver and his business partners established a network of water races and were major contributors to the success of gold mining in the area - supplying much needed water to local miners to operate their sluice boxes.

While there is a lot of history recorded on the achievements of his water race business, few know that he was also among the first to plant grapes and produce wine - something the region is well-recognised for these days.

Since discovering the old, underground wine cellar at Como Villa Estate, John and Pam Chapman have been slowly restoring the old stone house, in honour of someone who played an important role in Central Otago's history.

Como Villa Estate releases a tribute wine dedicated to the entrepreneurial spirit of Thomas Oliver. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It pays homage to the types of grapes that may have been grown on the property over a 150 years ago.

Proceeds from sales go toward the continued restoration and preservation of the historic stone house and wine cellar.

The History of Como Villa Estate

Thomas Oliver made his way to New Zealand from England, eventually settling at Dunstan in 1863 where he took up licence at the London Inn on Tarbert Street (later renamed Bendigo Hotel). Oliver started a business partnership with two other men from the district and over the next 10 years began constructing and acquiring water races and mining rights in the area.

During this time, Oliver sold the London Inn and relocated to a 'residence area' on Earnscleugh Road. Here he built a substantial stone house and named the property Como Villa.

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A photo of the restored stone house (left), contrasted with a drawing of the original four-bedroomed building built by Thomas Oliver in the 1860s.

There were four rooms initially, featuring a master bedroom and living room at the front section of the house. The original four rooms of the house were plastered and wallpapered overtop of several layers of newspaper. These still-readable sheets of the Otago Witness date back to 20 November 1869 can be found on display at Como Villa Estate.

Oliver later added a kitchen-living room, dairy and storeroom to the rear of the house. A six-roomed house such as this would have been rare on the goldfields at the time. It also boasted a smithy, stables, coach-house, stockyard, piggery and cellar.

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Image on left: The auction notice for Como Villa, as published in the Tuapeka Times, 1874.
Image on right: One of the old newspapers dating back to 1869 found in the walls of the stone house.

Ongoing research

It is believed that Luigi Valli was the winemaker responsible for wine produced from the grapes likely to have been grown at Como Villa. Luigi was from Como, Italy and his relatives still live in the area today. Luigi was also gold mining in the area during the time. He is buried nearby at the Clyde Cemetery.

A special thankyou to all those who have helped us source information about the history of Thomas Oliver and Como Villa Estate including; The late Professor John McRaw, author of The early days on the Dunstan; NZ Society of Geneologists (Otago district) and Central Stories.

If you think you may have any information about the history of Thomas Oliver and his family, please contact Johnny at info@comovilla.co.nz - we would love to hear from you.