In this post-Covid world, we see retail and hospitality businesses pivoting, flexing, being responsive and generally getting inventive in order to survive.
Two Hawke’s Bay wine businesses have done exactly that and got creative, offering a new style of wine tasting experience – one where cuisine is also a star player.
After having shut up shop in April due to Covid, Elephant Hill and Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels (formerly Te Awa) recently opened their doors again, but the offerings are significantly different than before.
Both Villa Maria and Elephant Hill now offer seated tastings, the latter adding two wine and food pairings: Flights and Bites, a flight of four wines served with matching food pairings, and Icon Flight and Bites, where four limited edition wines are matched with small bites.
Simon Swa, Elephant Hill’s sales and marketing manager, says two weeks’ on, the new service has been really well received.
“People seem to be interested in this new type of cellar door offering and we’ve had really positive feedback. Our Flights and Bites evolved from what we had to do after lockdown in terms of seated tastings and social distancing within the restaurant.
“Our ambition at Elephant Hill was not relaunch the restaurant or cellar door like it was prior to Covid, but a more scaled back service where people could experience our food and wine, without the commitment to a full-on lunch – a snapshot of Elephant.”
The restaurant has just marked its first week back in business, operating with a small team, limited covers and opening only Thursday to Saturday, while the Flights and Bites tasting menu runs Thursday to Monday. “We’re being prudent and careful as no-one is sure what the future holds,” says Simon.
The dinner menu at Elephant Hill changes every two weeks, a purposeful move by the business. “As we are catering to locals rather than tourists, we need to give people a reason to keep coming back. Changing our menu every fortnight provides that.”
Across town, Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels’ new tasting room welcomed its first visitors last week. Home to both the Villa Maria and Esk Valley brands, the cellar door offers a range of seated tastings including wine flights, tiered tastings, Icon tastings of rare wines and back vintages, and private tastings with Esk Valley winemaker Gordon Russell.
Like the tasting room, the restaurant on site is open Tuesday to Saturday, with former Te Awa Chef Stephen Tindall once again at the helm. He’s created a new menu of only seven small-plate dishes, all carefully matched to a wine.
“We chose the wines that best represented Hawke’s Bay and then Stephen created dishes around them, using local, seasonal and the foraged ingredients he has become well known for,” says Brittany Turlock who manages the front of house for both the tasting room and restaurant. “The new style of wine and food experiences are approachable in a relaxed setting. We’re getting really positive feedback.”
Photos: Supplied by Elephant Hill