Marlborough wine industry damage revealed by New Zealand Winegrowers report

More than 1000 tanks were damaged in Marlborough by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, affecting 20 per cent of total wine ...
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

More than 1000 tanks were damaged in Marlborough by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, affecting 20 per cent of total wine storage capacity in the region.

Millions of litres of wine have been lost in Marlborough and the industry is scrambling to repair its tanks in time for harvest.

In the first two weeks following the earthquake reports of damage were rife, but a survey of New Zealand Winegrowers members has provided the first complete picture.

More than 1000 tanks capable of holding in excess of 50 million litres of wine were damaged in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, accounting for 20 per cent of total storage capacity in the region.

Damage to a barrel hall at Constellation Brands' winery at the Riverlands Industrial Estate, south of Blenheim.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Damage to a barrel hall at Constellation Brands' winery at the Riverlands Industrial Estate, south of Blenheim.

The likelihood of tank manufacturers being overwhelmed by demand means companies are looking to shift wine to the North Island, or place it in temporary storage to free up capacity before harvest next March.

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New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said the impact was worse than the 2013 Seddon earthquake, but believed wine companies would still be able to take in a normal harvest next year.

Burkhart Estate owner Trevor Burkhart said around 30 rows need replacing because of earthquake damage.
TREVOR BURKHART

Burkhart Estate owner Trevor Burkhart said around 30 rows need replacing because of earthquake damage.

Wine losses in the wake of the November 14 event amounted to about 2 per cent of total production, or around 4 million litres given Marlborough produces more than 200m litres of wine a year.

"While this is frustrating, this is not a major concern as vintage 2016 was a near record one. This means there is plenty of wine available to continue our market growth," Gregan said.

The main concern was damage to storage tanks, with the survey recording an initial estimate of 20 per cent of storage capacity around the region which had been impaired by the earthquake.

Earthquake damage to Burkhart Estate, south of Blenheim.
TREVOR BURKHART

Earthquake damage to Burkhart Estate, south of Blenheim.

"It's going to take a long time to repair all the tanks, but the industry needs to be in the position to be able to take a normal vintage, and that's going to happen, there's no doubt," Gregan said.

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"We have been liaising with affected wineries, engineers, tank manufacturers, the Government and the Marlborough District Council to ensure there are no unnecessary impediments to that process proceeding as quickly and safely as possible."

With the clock ticking to next harvest wine companies would be considering other options to free up capacity, such as shifting wine to North Island wineries, bottling early or bringing in temporary storage.

Gregan said these measures would help set wine companies up to take in a normal amount of grapes next harvest, which depending on the size, he was confident the industry could handle.

Wine Marlborough chairman Rhyan Wardman said a sense of urgency was needed to make sure the Marlborough wine industry was in a position to handle harvest.

"The challenge is significant but I don't think it's insurmountable," he said.

"The take away message from all of this is the industry needs to get on with having those conversations with their insurers, engineers, tank manufacturers and their grower base.

"It's a fairly short period between now and harvest and there needs to be open and frank conversations about meeting expectations, because there's not a lot of time left."

This year the industry processed 323,290 tonnes of grapes in one of the largest harvests on record, with indications from growers hinting at the possibility of another above-average harvest next vintage.

Economic development minister Steven Joyce, who met with wine industry representatives last week, offered government support to make sure there was enough stainless steel for replacements.

But Wardman said a New Zealand Winegrowers steering group, which was assessing the impact of the earthquake, had met with tank manufacturers who said sourcing raw material was not the problem.

Instead, the number of tanks that needed to be replaced or repaired meant there was likely going to be manufacturing constraints as the companies struggled to keep up with demand.

Wardman said it was important wine companies kept in contact with their growers so there was no surprises about how much grapes they would need, or were able to process, come harvest.

Caythorpe Family Estate director Simon Bishell, a grapegrower and member of the Wine Marlborough board, said it was too early to say how winery damage might affect growers.

However, he hoped wine companies would come together in the wake of the earthquake and share any spare capacity they might have with those wineries that had serious damage.

"In times of adversity like this, you'll see the industry come together and help each other out for the greater good," Bishell said.

Wine tank producers Crown Sheet Metal and Taylors Engineering both declined to comment.

 - The Marlborough Express

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