“It is a fact beyond contention, except by the bigot, that in wine-drinking countries the people are amongst the most sober, contented, and industrious on the face of the earth,” Romeo Bragato
The Clive Grange area was confirmed as an ideal location to promote wine making when international wine expert Romeo Bragato, on loan to the New Zealand Government, delivered his 1903 assessment of the country’s potential as a winemaking nation.
Spanish immigrant Anthony Joseph Vidal was the first winemaker to prove the case for coastal grape growing at Te Awanga, on the site today occupied by Clearview Estate Winery.
Vidal had arrived in the country from Barcelona, Spain, in 1888 aged 22-years, learning the craft through a 10-year wine making apprenticeship with his uncle, award winning vintner and industry pioneer Joseph Soler in Whanganui.
Vidal went out on his own from 1905, establishing vines and a winery in an old racing stables at Te Mata, Havelock North then expanding to Te Awanga from 1915, establishing himself as an early wine innovator.
Since those days, the Cape Coast has become one of Hawke’s Bay’s primary wine growing areas, with awards and medals regularly presented to boutique vineyards for a range of red and white varieties, that are sought after nationally and around the world.
The Cape Coast is particularly suited for classic white varieties, including the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon produced by Clearview Estate, Elephant Hill, Beach House Wines and Te Awanga Estate. Grapes are also grown here for other prominent Hawke’s Bay wineries.
Wine experts have described the area as having a distinctive and healthy micro-climate that is suited to grape growing. It is ideal for relatively late ripening, with the sea breeze and constant air movement through the vineyards reducing the need for spraying and creating a quick drying environment after rain.
Warm days, cool nights and the relatively low risk of spring frost make it ideal for relatively small grapes with thick skins, which, in the hands of capable wine makers produce both white and red wines with considerable body and intensity of flavour.
Austrian-Hungarian Romeo Bragato trained as a winemaker in Italy and was appointed Government Viticulturist for Victoria, Australia in 1889. He was sent out on loan to the New Zealand Government in 1895.
The New Zealand Department of Agriculture wanted him to assess the broader prospects for wine making and he favourably recommended suitable regions, the creation of associations and the importing of disease resistant vines. He saw great promise in Wairarapa and Central Otago, but particularly Hawke’s Bay. He urged the government to help winemakers by setting up a viticulture college and experimental farms.
In 1903 Signor Bragato, recommend land be acquired either at Te Mata (Havelock North) or Clive Grange for a State Farm for Viticulture. “There is a probability of the latter estate being purchased by the Government for settlement purposes in which case a portion will be set aside for a farm,” reported the Manawatu Standard in August 1903.
But then the entire industry began to look shaky. Growers feared the temperance movement would persuade government to bring in legislation to their detriment. Some of the pioneering growers either pulled out or eased back severely on expansion plans. Nothing in Bragato’s report was acted upon.
Joseph Vidal, his wife Caroline and their children had arrived in Napier about 1892 where he initially established a wire manufacturing business and then a fish market before branching out into the grape growing business.
His three sons, who had all been trained in the wine business, took over Vidals on his death in May 1933. Les the eldest, a trained winemaker, returned from looking after family wine interests in South Australia, and Frank who was a chemist by trade began running the cellars and the blending and Cecil took over the offices and the business side.
The first person they employed on the death of their father was Joe Boaler who had extensive experience on the land.
Working the ground
Ida Bristow (nee Boaler) has clear memories of her father Joe’s involvement with Vidals Te Awanga vineyard dating back to 1933, when he first began work cultivating the 5 acre (2 ha) vineyard. “He told them he didn’t know the first thing about growing vines but he knew about cultivation and fencing."
Ida says her father was very meticulous about fencing. “I can still see it now at the end of one row the post had broken so they dug a hole and stuck another post in beside it and wired it together. There were three posts wired together. To my Dad that was not on because he knew fencing.” That was one of the first things he sorted out.
Then Les Vidal asked my father what he was doing going up and down the rows between the vines with a horse and scarifier (a kind of rake), pointing out there were no weeds to remove. He explained that if you cultivate the top layer then it’s much easier for the moisture to come up from below.
Ida recalls there was clearly a lot of work to do to get the vines and property tidied up and operating again on a commercial level at Havelock North and Te Awanga as things had become rundown.
Within a month of the Vidal boys returning to take over the business the Boaler family moved into an old rundown shed they gradually fixed up over the first year her father was managing the vineyard.
Boaler’s daughter-in-law Lynette (nee Burden) says the family didn’t have a telephone, “had no electricity, used white spirit lamps for lighting, a coal range for cooking and a copper to wash clothes in.”
Ida says although the power lines went along the shingle road through Te Awanga “old man Vidal wouldn’t pay for the two power poles needed to reach his property” which was set back from the road. One of the first things that happened when his sons took over was the power went on.
Ida says her father was always cultivating and scarifying. “They got such a good return from the land we finished up with 25 acres instead of 5 acres. While they had the same vines in the Havelock yard it didn’t give the same return as the liquid they got off at Te Awanga.
Joe Boaler initially used a mechanical sprayer which he walked behind with a single butt in the end that was only used during winter. “The sprayer my father came up with had three nozzles; two at ground level and one at the top so you only had to go down every other row.”
He remained managing the Vidals Te Awanga vineyard until he retired in 1966 by which time other family members had moved away to start their own lives. In 1979, New Zealand’s first winery restaurant, Vidal Estate Winery Restaurant, was opened at the original Havelock North winery site.
After a lull of several decades when local vineyards were left to deteriorate, Te Awanga, one of the first in Hawke’s Bay to have substantial plantings, experienced a resurgence in the 1980s when Te Mata Estate began sourcing fruit from the 1.6 hectare Cape Crest vineyard.
Clearview Wines, first established from 1989 by Tim Turvey and Helma van den Berg on the old Vidal's winery site, led the charge in restoring the reputation of the area for producing good wines by winning 10 medals and a trophy after operating for little over a year.
Co-owner Helma van den Berg said she and partner Tim Turvey had a vision to create an alfresco Mediterranean styled lunch restaurant where they would sell their own wines and the people would come.
"I think we have enduring passion and we have been doing it around 30 years and the same two people who had the idea are still running it everyday…We are grape growers, wine makers, event managers and restaurateurs and I think that is what makes it so exciting."
Against the odds
Winemaker Tim Turvey had been told in 1985 that the Te Awanga was “too cold to grow wine grapes". He went ahead with the purchase of the Clifton Rd property anyway, planting the first vines in the winter of 1988. His partner Helma van den Berg says there were plenty of naysayers claiming, “no-one will come out to that stony old beach”.
Turvey, said the area was chosen for its stony soil, with clay and loam sitting over deep beds of free draining river shingle. The climate offers an extended ripening period often well into autumn. The grapes ripened between two to three weeks earlier than in most other Hawke’s Bay vineyards and less spraying was needed because of the sea breeze.
In the early days of clearing the land and replanting the grapes Turvey discovered a fading ‘Vidals No 2 vineyard’ sign while mowing the front paddock. The Vidal family planted an olive tree which still grows near the restaurant and is the inspiration for Clearview’s award winning wine 'Old Olive Block'.
Tim and Helma went on to plant 2,500 trees, including avocados, olives, melia and bay trees, lavender and citrus. They expanded at a rate of about three acres a year (ha) acquiring adjacent properties, fencing, planting, training, grafting, pruning their own vines for many years.
They also designed and built the winery, adding to the cellar door and restaurant as the business grew.
The Clearview Estate 'Red Shed' Restaurant was opened in 1991 using materials salvaged from the old Napier railways' locomotive repair workshop and a dismantled Ford Motors garage from Hastings complete with three massive roller doors.
Clearview Estate grows 11 grape varieties from 19.4 hectares (48 acres) at Te Awanga vineyards where the vines are intensively managed and pruned for low yields of quality fruit. Leased land at Gimblett Road provides Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The winery generally processes around 120-130 tonnes of grapes in a vintage, with its largest being around 180 tonnes. Clearview has achieved more than 100 gold medals and 5 star ratings and was recognised for delivering "exceptional" visitor experiences at the sixth annual Hawke's Bay Tourism Industry Awards taking out the Supreme Award as well as the Essence of Hawke's Bay Award.
Vineyard presence expands
The late 1990s had proved a popular period for the Hawke’s Bay region. Newcomers making a mark included Kim Crawford Wines boutique winery at Te Awanga which opened in October 1999. The vineyard established by Kim Crawford chairman Jim Scotland, Michael Hewitt and three other shareholders; was an alliance with Te Awanga Vineyards, which owned the Te Awanga Estate label. It later changed hands to Rod McDonald Wines although it’s still known as Te Awanga Estate.
Beach House Wines, a family owned boutique winery with vineyards in the Te Awanga and Gimblett Gravels regions, was established when Chris and Jill Harrison met while studying winemaking at Roseworthy College, Adelaide, Australia in 1991.
After working up vintages in France and New Zealand Chris worked for Montana and Jill for Grove Mill before the idea of developing their own brewery took hold. The couple got married in 1994 and moved to Hawke’s Bay where they started Roosters Brewhouse.
Chris’s parents Ralph and Philippa Harrison, moved from Pahiatua and purchased a property in Clifton Rd, Te Awanga where they planted Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer in the stony ground not far from the beach.
In 1997 Chris and Jill bought their own grapes and made the first Beach House Wines at their brewery. In 2000 Ralph built the Beach House Cellar Door on his Te Awanga vineyard, opening in summer weekends from Labour weekend through until Easter for wine tastings.
In 1999 Chris & Jill moved to Mere Road on the Gimblett Gravels where they planted Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Montepulciano and Chardonnay and by 2008 had built their own state-of-the art wine making facility with the capacity to press 200 tonnes of grapes. Beach House Wines has won a myriad of medals and trophies as one of New Zealand’s most sought-after boutique winemakers.
After seven years planning, Elephant Hill, the latest arrival on the Cape Coast wine trail opened to the public on 24 November 2008 with principal owners Reydan and Roger Weiss from Germany and about 100 wine industry luminaries and officials welcomed by local kapa haka group Paerau.
The first major event at the winery was “an intimate evening with Jose Careras" in an exclusive New Zealand concert joined by the Vector Wellington Orchestra and guest soprano New Zealand’s Anna Leese on 31 January 2009 attended by 4800 people.
In August 2007, months before construction began, managing director Gunter Thies outlined the $40 million project. It took 1600 tonnes of concrete to construct three rooms capable of storing 500 barrels of wine.
It has an underground cellar with glass walls or partitions to form a function room and tasting area accessible from the upstairs restaurant. The cellar was “something of an older style technique used in Europe for hundreds of centuries.” Elephant Hill a jumbo $40m, HB Today, 11 August 2007
The first vines were planted in 2003 and the inaugural vintage started in 2006.
Andreas Weiss, the son of Roger and a former banker, joined the family business in September 2015, stepping up as CEO following his father’s passing in September 2016.
Elephant Hill owns 27ha at its original Te Awanga vineyard, 17ha in Gimblett Gravels, and leases an 18.7ha vineyard in Bridge Pa, specialising in Chardonnay and Syrah.
Photos courtesy Vidals and Helma van den Berg
Jock Hewitt 11/ 11/ 2009 at http://www.hawkes-bay.co.nz/blog/te-awanga-haumoana/
Te Kauwhata: http://www.tekauwhatavillage.co.nz/welcome-to-te-kauwhata/romeo-bragato-visionary-for-the-nz-wine-industry/
Manawatu Standard, 18 August 1903
HB Digital Archives birth and Joseph Vidal’s death notice
Te Awanga Our Home, Burden Childhood Days, Burden Family, 2008
Interviews with Joe Boaler’s daughter Ida Bristow 07 & 11-12-2017
Clearview win big at Tourism Awards, HB Today, 24 Aug, 2017
Te Awanga grapes impress, HB Today, 18 April 1994
Boutique winery opens, HB Today, 16-10-99
Drinks Business: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/09/corney-barrow-takes-on-nzs-elephant-hill/