As Mission Estate's winemaker Paul Mooney said, it was not a major grape pick but it was a significant one.

And an early one.

Just after 8.30 yesterday morning a grape-picking crew fired up the machinery and went to work - taking in a "small pick" of about seven or eight tonnes of grapes for what Mr Mooney described as a trial batch of 2014 pinot gris.

The harvest, from a block which has been organically certified, was staged a fortnight early to prevent the sugar levels rising to a certain, higher, level.


The result will be about 500 dozen bottles of a lower alcohol level pinot gris which will be sold through the Mission's cellar door.

"It will be around 9 to 9.5 per cent," Mr Mooney said.

While an early pick, the Mission Estate was not the first - they were beaten to the punch by one day as Delegats and Consolation carried out a pick on Tuesday morning. "But this is early for us."

Mission Estate is one of three New Zealand wineries, and the only one in Hawke's Bay, which make up the Organic Focus Group, and as well as pursuing organic varieties the winery was also "experimenting" in the growing low-alcohol wine sector.

Pressing of the early pick began immediately and Mr Mooney expects the fermentation to run over the next fortnight - with bottling expected to be around May.

To celebrate the early pick, which has kicked off the season, he and the Mission harvest crew "dumped it all in the hopper and had a glass of sparkling".

It heralded the beginning of Mr Mooney's 35th vintage. It had been a diverse and colourful time as styles and wine technology were always on the move.

"I'm always looking for challenges and like to try new things out," he said, adding that like being the first to create a New Zealand bubbly (they called it Fontanella) the Mission was always looking for new avenues of innovation.

He said this year's overall vintage looked "very good" as after a damper than hoped-for November the summer had been warm and relatively fine.

The crop loads were expected to be around average - meaning the rest of the Mission harvest, about 2000 tonnes, would start being picked in the first week in March.