Earliest ever harvest? Grapes coming off vines at Hawke’s Bay winery Elephant Hill

Hawke’s Bay winery Elephant Hill has begun one of its earliest grape harvests in memory, after a “tumultuous” 2020.

The winery begun its annual chardonnay harvest on Tuesday at their Triangle Vineyard in Bridge Pa – one month earlier than usual.

Vineyard manager Brent Stone said the grapes, used exclusively to make still wine, are contenders for the earliest grapes ever harvested at Elephant Hill.

“I can’t give an absolute guarantee that these are the earliest grapes ever,” he said. “But there has been a steady movement of harvest dates coming forward over the last decade or so.

“The last few years have highlighted that even more. This early harvest is the product of another exceptional growing season, so far.”

Typically, the Hawke’s Bay grape harvest commences in mid-March, with grapes grown for sparkling wine production a little earlier.

Stone said the “extraordinarily early” harvest is one the first to commence in the region this year.

According to Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Inc, Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels received grapes and made rose last Friday, while Halcyon Days and Hopesgrove picked Pinot Noir over the weekend.

The Elephant Hill restaurant, located on Clifton Rd, Te Awanga, closed its doors in April last year due to the implications caused by Covid-19.

After parting ways with 23 staff members, the restaurant reopened six months later in October.

Stone said last year’s harvest was completed during lockdown, followed by months of uncertainty, forcing a restructure of the business.

“It goes without saying we have had a tumultuous year,” he said.

“So we’re delighted that a year on, largely with the support of New Zealand resident wine lovers, Elephant Hill remains open, positive and optimistic.”

Chief executive Andreas Weiss said challenges still remain however, with many wineries competing with the horticulture sector to secure enough workers to pick among a “limited pool” of seasonal workers.

“It’s a great relief to see the grapes arrive at the winery safely and in great condition, and perhaps the exceptionally early timing might help spread the work and people across many vineyards and other sectors,” he said.

“Mother Nature has been on our side throughout the growing season, but getting enough vineyard workers at critical times over the last year has been more of a challenge.”

Despite the challenges, Weiss and Stone remain optimistic about the year ahead for Elephant Hill and the Hawke’s Bay wine industry.

“We’re pleased with quality of the fruit and it bodes well for the potential quality of the wines,” Stone said.

“There will be some great Hawke’s Bay wines in the market for quite a few years to come. This is very positive for all winegrowers in our region.”

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