Making Wine the Elephant Hill Way

Rachel Lilburn - Wednesday, April 01, 2015
We ask our winemaker, Steve Skinner, how he goes about ensuring Elephant Hill consistantly produces award winNing wines.
Your wines are highly awarded, to what do you attribute this success?

Our aim is to make wines that are balanced and elegant and a true expression of the vineyards they come from. Elephant Hill wines are truly hand crafted which we believe results in better quality wine.

Attention to detail, hard work and an absolute commitment to quality are the hallmarks of our viticulture and winemaking. The skills of our viticulture and winemaking teams are taken to the absolute limit to make the very best wines.

All our wines are made from hand-picked and hand-sorted grapes. We will only pick the very best fruit at optimum ripeness. Grapes do not all ripen at the same time meaning that we will often have up to 15 different picking days for a single vineyard selecting the very best fruit.

In the winery we ferment in separate batches, this allows for the nuances and character of each separate fermentation to come to the fore and be considered when blending for our Estate, Reserve or Icon wines.

How do you manage to be innovative in your winemaking techniques while at the same time preserve tradition?

The technology associated with winemaking is always improving, as is the knowledge and understanding of the science of wine. Important as these factors are, our overriding philosophy is to preserve the varietal integrity of the fruit from our vineyard; in this sense the winemaking at Elephant Hill is driven by tradition while not losing sight of what innovation can bring to the blend.

What is your favourite time of year in the winemaking calendar, and why?

Post-harvest, usually around June, when the young wines first start to reveal their identities and quality. In a typical vintage we will have upwards of a hundred individual batches of wine. Each is different to the other in subtle ways. This is the time of the year we first start to experiment with future blends. It’s the reward to three months of hard-work for the winery and vineyard teams.

What in your opinion are the factors that contribute to a good vintage?

The perfect vintage for a winemaker is warm and dry throughout autumn; the climate so benign of threats that the winemaker can pick the fruit when it is truly flavour-ripe for the style of wine desired. The perfect vintage, of course, doesn’t exist. Some years come closer than others however. As a winemaker in the Hawke’s Bay you learn to deal with the weather nature hands you, and gradually you start to enjoy the variation from year to year. Great wine should reflect the site and the climate of where it is grown. One of the most rewarding challenges as a winemaker is to craft a wine that best represents the vintage in which it was grown, that plays to the strengths of the harvest and mitigates the challenges that were faced.

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