One of Hawke's Bay's most iconic winery restaurants has closed its doors.
Elephant Hill announced that its restaurant, which has been closed under the Covid-19 restrictions, will not reopen.
The site, located on Clifton Rd, Te Awanga, offers a range of wine and food, with the fare created by head chef Punit D'Souza.
Elephant Hill chief executive Andreas Weiss said the impacts of Covid-19 forced the company to review the role the restaurant played in their overall business.
"While we have always been very proud to offer a fine dining experience, the production of great wine has always been our main focus," he said.
"With so much of our business dependent on international visitors and the restaurant and hospitality sector, Elephant Hill is reorganising for its future, recognising the long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic."
Weiss added: "This definitely was the most awful day in my time here at Elephant Hill and it has been a very tough, heart-breaking decision to make."
A total of 23 roles, a mix of full-time and part-time employees, will be lost due to the restaurant closure.
The restaurant has won multiple awards over the years, including Best Winery Restaurant at the Cuisine Good Food Guide 2018 awards and Outstanding Winery Restaurant at the Hawke's Bay Hospitality Awards 2018.
The restaurant was closed under Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions.
Weiss said the decision to close the restaurant was not taken lightly. He said it was better to announce their decision earlier, rather than later.
"International borders are likely to remain closed for a long time and there will be impacts to local tourism and hospitality for potentially many months to come," he said.
"We think that it is better to make this decision early, based on what we know, and what our international contacts are telling us. It gives those team members most affected as much time as possible to plan for their futures."
Weiss said responses from staff varied from "disbelief to a complete understanding".
Hawke's Bay Tourism Chief Executive Hamish Saxton said visitors and locals will be saddened by the loss.
"The loss of 23 clearly-loved staff members would have made that decision even harder," he said.
"We will need to reignite the visitor economy and work hard to attract visitors back to Hawke's Bay, when they can travel, so that our businesses can thrive once more. Our regional population, while playing a vital role, is not enough to solely support the quality hospitality experiences our residents are so proud of."
Saxton added: "We have been fortunate indeed to have had this award-winning restaurant in our stable. Elephant Hill will remain a wonderful reason to visit Hawke's Bay and fulfil our reputation as a prestigious winemaking region and visitor destination."
Esther Steinberg, who got married at Elephant Hill in 2017, said she will always hold the venue close to her heart.
"We got married there specifically as it was a special place for us," she said. "The restaurant staff were so welcoming and kind – they really made our day special.
"The food was incredible and catered to everyone, including some very specific food needs.
Steinberg added: "We were planning a trip to Hawke's Bay after this all. But as my husband doesn't drink, it might not be the same without the food."
Elephant Hill, established in 2003, is still offering an online wine delivery service.
Customers holding Elephant Hill gift vouchers can redeem them for wine, and when the Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted, for private tastings, tours and cellar door purchases.
Weiss added: "We will be back, though we don't know yet in what format, how it will look like and when."