Look in any one of Te Mata Estate's vineyards and you will see a gang of hard-working pickers, although they may not be your average type - a little more vintage you could say.

More than 70 people, averaging 70 years old, but anywhere from early retirement age to well into their 80s, hand pick the winery's grapes.

Te Mata Estate founder John Buck said: "They are people who epitomise what the unsung quality of Hawke's Bay is really all about.

"They are just utterly fabulous, so they are a bit of a contrast to all the articles about picking-crew people. They give a lie to it, frankly.


"I mean we obviously look after them and appreciate them highly and it is all done in good humour. They are a very essential feature of premium export quality, you can't do it without people like that."

Since Te Mata Estate's inception, all fruit is harvested by hand - something which Mr Buck says is "nothing new" but less common nowdays.

"At the top end of wine internationally, if you export, as our company does, the markets you compete in, that's what your competitors are doing and therefore we think it is an essential part of being competitive at the top level, internationally."

He was not aware of any other "gangs" like his and on occasion he has had to lend them out to other wineries to help with small blocks.

"Ours is very peculiar to us in terms of the way you can get human beings to selectively harvest, which machines don't do. They try but they don't do it as well so they selectively harvest according to quality parameters.

"There are these fantastic people just getting on with it and I am in awe of them."

Retired local Eddie Wilson has never looked back since one of his friends told him about the gig eight years ago.

The 76-year-old is one of the newer pickers, with some having worked for up to 20 years.

Their mantra is, they don't care how long it takes, as long as it it done properly.

"There's a lot of laughter, a lot of fun and a sore back occasionally", he joked.

"We enjoy each others' company, there's such a cross-section of people and all with a good spirit and I think a good work ethic that we probably grew up with, in our generation."

They have a running joke that they should be paying John, "because we have so much fun and a lot of laughs".

They've only ever advertised once in 40 years and that was during the early days, with it now being all word of mouth. "We constantly have a full picking crew," Mr Buck said.

"What happens is as they drop off, as some do, we have a constant pool of replacements coming through. They tell their friends."

He said the pickers usually stopped because they were "too old" and then one of their friends would replace them.