Making wine with an Elephant

Harry at work

Harry at work

Just over the Outeniqua Mountains, which separate Sedgefield from the Karoo Desert, lies the tiny wine producing village of Calitzdorop. Their wines and Ports have always been excellent but it is the new grape crusher at vineyard Boplaas who is getting attention.

 Harry – the world’s first elephant grape crusher – weighs in at 3.5 tonnes. Twelve feet tall with the ability to crush hundred’s of grapes with his 2 ft wide feet, Harry showed off his skills last weekend as the wine estate’s Elephant Rosé was launched.

 The unusual idea of using an African Elephant bull to crush grapes arose when two friends were sharing a bottle of red wine. Ok, maybe more than one.

‘I was sitting with Ian Withers (owner of Knysna Elephant Park sanctuary where Harry resides) drinking a few glasses of wine and began explaining the traditional method of grape crushing that has existed for thousands of years,’ explains Carel Nel, wine master for Boplaas and the man who had the ‘big idea’.

‘It was then that we realised that an elephant, the heaviest land animal, had never done this kind of work before, so we decided to test it out.’ Surprisingly for elephant conservationist Ian and his team at Knysna Elephant Park, 22-year-old Harry had an instant talent for his new job.

‘Harry has been around humans for so long that he responds to our requests very readily,’ explains Ian. ‘He totally understands ‘foot up, foot forward and foot down’ because we have to check his feet every day and therefore it was very simple to get him to crush up the grapes.’

Before the treading takes place, Harry’s feet are washed and sterilised and then dried on a towel laid out in front of the trough which held the grapes.

Harry's feet being sterilised

Harry's feet being sterilised

‘Harry understood what was going on very quickly,’ says Ian. ‘The only problem we encountered was that Harry had a slight problem understanding why we were not eating the delicious grapes.’

Harry couldn‘t resist a sneak taste of the “bouquet” as he dipped his trunk into a large metal bucket containing the batch of grapes that will be used to make next year’s vintage.

Harry‘s work is mostly symbolic as he only stamps some of the grapes, which are then added to the bulk of the wine processed with a mechanical press. This year he crushed red wine grapes tinta barroca, which will be blended with cabarnet sauvignon to make the 2009 vintage.

The wine producing village of Calitzdorp

The wine producing village of Calitzdorp

Elephant pictures and info courtesy of the Daily Mail and the EP Herald.


2 Responses to “Making wine with an Elephant”

  1. 1 Joy-Mari February 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I love how you took a photo of the quaint coloured inhabitants who drive such ‘agterlike’ vehicles.

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