Gary and Valley Neale may have won Nelson's top business award last night, but they have no intention of taking it easy.
The Brightwater Vineyards owners beat a strong field to be crowned supreme winner at the Westpac Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.
The 25th anniversary of the black tie event at the WOW and Classic Car Museum drew more than 550 people and 21 entrants.
The Neales, who planted their first grapes at Hope in 1993, took the Radio Network Small Business Award before winning the big one and toasting the crowd with their own wine.
It caps a memorable year for their boutique winery, which produces less than 9000 cases and has just four staff. Along with collecting 12 gold medals for its wines, it also won champion wine of the year for its premium chardonnay and winemaker of the year at the Royal Easter Show.
Mrs Neale told the Nelson Mail they were "absolutely overwhelmed" to win the top award.
"It's a real boost to us."
Their business had been through some very hard times but had been able to maintain its prices and sales volumes by concentrating on quality, she said.
"We are still very focused and passionate about what we do and are always looking to lift the bar a little bit higher."
She paid tribute to their former accountant and fellow director Eugene Crowe who had "championed us for many years".
It was Mr Crowe who had persuaded them to enter the awards.
Mr Neale said the wine industry was likely to remain tough going for a while yet, with both Europe and the United States battling big economic problems, which meant the winery would need to keep "ahead of the game".
"We don't want to get a lot bigger, but we think we can get better."
It aimed to make its Lord Rutherford range of premium wines - launched at a time when others were discounting their products - into one of the most prestigious brands in the country, he said. Already, demand for their most expensive sauvignon blanc far exceeded supply.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was for Pic Picot, who won the Wakatu Innovation Award for his peanut butter, with the judges describing it as fantastic story of someone turning an idea into a multimillion-dollar business through their passion and innovative approach.
Whenua Iti Outdoors, the charitable trust which has worked with more than 18,000 young people, took the New Zealand King Salmon Investing in People and Skills Award.
Action Forest Management won the Nelson Pine Industries Service Excellence Award, while the Bridge Street Collective walked away with the Nelson Mail Emerging Business Award.
Glenn Roberts Electrical Nelson overcame strong competition to take the Media Works Medium Business Award, and Jennian Homes - last year's supreme winner - made it on to the podium again by claiming the Port Nelson Large Business Award.
The chamber also honoured Bronwyn Monopoli, who was inducted into its hall of fame for her local and national contribution to the business community, corporate governance and arts and culture.
Chamber chief executive Dot Kettle said the judges were impressed by the standard and commitment of the entrants, saying they were "true leaders, trail blazers and bearers of hope in the ongoing difficult economic climate".
The diversity of the winners reinforced the depth and breadth of talent in the region, Ms Kettle said.
The sold-out event and a 50 per cent increase in entries from last year showed the growing credibility of the awards and the support the chamber enjoyed, she said.
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