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Winery three weeks ahead

KERI MOLLOY
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014
Bruce Soland
EARLY PICKINGS: Russell is first across the line in this year’s grape harvest, expected to be a bonzer vintage. Bruce Soland, with pinot gris grapes, is vineyard manager at Omata Estate.

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The first grapes to be picked in New Zealand for the 2014 vintage come from Omata Estate in Russell.

Vineyard manager Bruce Soland and staff harvested the first of the estate's pinot gris on Friday.

Early flowering and hot sunny days combined with low rainfall have put the estate three weeks ahead of normal and far in advance of its southern cousins.

The key reason for the early ripening is that Omata's vineyard sits on its own north facing peninsula right above the water, Mr Soland says.

"We get the sun all day, gentle sea breezes that bring less disease pressure and warmth needed to ripen the fruit. The 2013 vintage was a cracker and this is shaping up even better," he says.

The pain last summer's drought caused the pastoral sector produced perfect ripening conditions for grapes, described as the best harvest in a decade. Far North winemaker Rod MacIvor says the early harvest is comparable to Australia.

"So far we've had a perfect run and everyone's grapes are in fantastic condition but while we're winning at the moment, there's still four weeks to go."

Five years ago Northland's wine industry could have gone either way, he says.

"But it's here to stay and the future is looking positive."

Mountain Landing on the Purerua Peninsula is looking at planting a further 10 hectares of grapes. Many small operators are managing to make a reasonable living off their blocks and the expanding wine trail is a tourism drawcard, Mr MacIvor says.

Mr MacIvor and his wife Cindy established award-winning Marsden Estate, granddaddy of Far North wineries, in the 1990s.

"The industry has turned a corner and it's great for the area. We have been able to offer two young wine makers fulltime work," Mr MacIvor says.

"The grapes themselves aren't worth a lot of money but we are adding value to them.

"It's a clean product that doesn't involve a lot of harmful sprays and the product fits in well with the range of good eateries we have here.

"If we can back up last year's vintage with another like it, it will do so much for the region's credibility," he says.

Missionary Samuel Marsden planted New Zealand's first grape vines in the Bay of Islands in 1819.

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