THE STORY OF ELEPHANT HILL
The first chapter in the story of Elephant Hill starts in 2001, and not with an elephant - though a love of elephants inspired the name - but with a Jaguar, of the motoring kind.
The first chapter in the story of Elephant Hill starts in 2001, and not with an elephant - though a love of elephants inspired the name - but with a Jaguar, of the motoring kind. German businessman Roger Weiss, vintage car fanatic, had long coveted a Jaguar Mk II, an unconventional yet iconic model of increasing rarity. Even after tracking one down, Roger had faced a significant obstacle, in that the car had fallen foul of the fearsome TÜV - the Technischer Überwachungsverein (a German technical body authorising certification akin to the British MOT) and he had struggled to find a sufficiently specialised mechanic to make it roadworthy. Hoping to find a solution, he headed to Essen for the annual Techno Classica, Germany’s prestigious vintage automobile fair, an annual mecca for motorheads the world over. It was here that Roger met a New Zealander and fellow classic car devotee, and the pair got talking.
Greg Beacham turned out to be an award-winning restoration expert specialised in remodelling 1950s and 60s Jaguars. He spoke thrillingly of the ‘space, pace and grace’ of older Jaguar models, of re-engineering de Dion axels and retro-fitting supercharged V8 engines. He had come over to Techno Classica to view a number of rare classics to restore to glory. Serendipity will be saluted! And so Roger and Greg dreamt up a plan: Greg would plunder his little black book and source the exact model, ship it all the way to his bodyshop in the Hawke’s Bay and work his magic. Roger and his wife Reydan would then fly down to collect it for a driving holiday.
And so it came to pass. A 1956 Mk II was duly found, and over many weeks and months, Greg worked painstakingly to restore it, respecting the unique curves and detail of its beautiful bodywork, its vertical oval grille and chrome wire wheels, while at the same time bringing the mechanics bang up to date. TÜV? Kein Problem! Finished in classic British Racing Green and proudly harbouring a 1999 Compressor V8, the car was resplendent.
Little did Roger and Reydan realise, wending their way south at 37,000 feet to collect their magnificent motor, just how life-changing the coming days would prove to be. They found the Hawke’s Bay enchanting. Spellbound by the raw beauty of the place, its wines, and the warmth of the local people, they found themselves visiting a plot of land for sale on the coast at Te Awanga, courtesy of an introduction from Greg, who had rather taken them under his wing. This was a beautiful seaside spot – just big enough to build a modest holiday home. Or so they thought.
The story goes that a ‘slight slip-up’ involving a decimal point or two had netted them a rather more sizeable acreage. Barely had their ‘miscalculation’ come to light, than Roger and Reydan had conceived of a plan for the land they had inadvertently acquired. ‘Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine’, said the King of Rock and Roll, somehow rather apt in context: by all accounts, the Weiss household is rarely short of ambition, dreams or the energy to drive them. So: why not plant their own vineyards? They could even build a winery one day and produce their own wines in the Hawke’s Bay! Carpe diem clearly translates pretty well into German. Just two years later, vineyards were planted and plans were made for a winery, completed in 2008 when the first commercial vintage was produced. Elephant Hill was born, named in homage to the Asian elephant, whose cause the Weiss family have long supported.
Fast forward 16 years, and the winery operation is thriving. Andreas Weiss, Roger’s son, is now at the helm of the business, working with a small, tight-knit team including chief winemaker Hugh Crighton and viticulturalist Brent Stone, both leading talents in their respective fields. While Roger sadly died in 2016, Elephant Hill today is testament to his pioneering spirit and determined work ethic.