Kinship & Solidarity: Harvest a family affair at Domaine Thomson

04 Jun 2020

Kate Barnett clearly recalls her father pulling up in Wanaka on New Years’ Day, to load his four begrudging daughters into the Chrysler Valiant station wagon.

Sophie Preece

The first days of January were always dedicated to picking blackcurrants on their farm, north of Dunedin, and Kate was there for every harvest, from age five through to 20.

The planting of Felton Road vineyard was also a family affair, after her dad – Stewart Elms – found the Bannockburn site, kick-starting a wine life that eventually led Kate to Domaine Thomson in Central Otago, where she’s Operations, Marketing and Cellar Door Manager.

This year she was also chief recruiter of locals for harvest, including her 11, 12 and 14-year-old children, in a step back in time she’s cherished.

The Covid-19 lockdown saw the boutique company caught short of harvest crew until a team of 18 friends and family filled the breach.

Being in a small town “at the end of the world” and asking people to come out of their isolation to help pick, was initially daunting.

“With Level 4 lockdown just starting, it was a big ask - one which I felt quite strongly,” she says, describing a sense of solemnity as the team familiarised themselves with the necessary layers of safety protocol.

But it rapidly became a precious time for the crew, with separate bubbles bonding emotionally, if not physically.

“They were so grateful to be there and we were so grateful to have them. It was a really lovely, lovely time.”

Now, with fruit in, the company is preparing for a pared-down period ahead. A beautiful new cellar door – 10 years in the planning and open for just six weeks before lockdown – has missed its grand opening.

The vineyard’s owners, David and PM Hall-Jones, were to be back for the harvest and for the launch but were unable to leave Hong Kong, where they are based, due to the pandemic.

It’s certainly a vintage to remember, she wrote in a heartfelt post on social media. “If a wine could speak of solidarity, gratitude and kinship, 2020 will be the wine to sit back and listen to.”

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