Wine makers mull harvest after tough season

It's been a cool season for grape growers.
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

It's been a cool season for grape growers.

Winemakers are still counting their gains and losses after a poor season in some regions.

NZ Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said he won't have all the figures until the end of June.

"It's been challenging. The vintage will be smaller  than the industry expected. Unfortunately some years we get grapes left on the vine," Gregan said.

NZ Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan is still gathering this year's wine reports.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

NZ Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan is still gathering this year's wine reports.

The positive story among winemakers is that a warm early and mid-summer set a positive scene for grapes for the cool wet autumn conditions.

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It's no secret some growers lost entire blocks while others did relatively well. 

"You need good grapes to make good wine although wine-making techniques can make the difference," Gregan said. 

The majority of exported wine in the form of sauvignon blanc comes from Marlborough where Bayleys vineyard expert John Hoare keeps a close eye on activity.

"There's a lot of hurt out there. Nobody is panicking but everyone is watching. It all depends what arrangements people have with their banks whether we get a few growers who decide they've had enough.

"It will probably show up in the middle of June when payments are due.

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"Some people have harvested everything, others have got about three quarters of it.

"There might be then odd one that that can't get funding for next season.

"To take one hectare of grapes from winter to the next harvest costs about $8000 to $10,000. It's a lot of money if you haven't had any income from the last harvest."

Hoare said the real estate market for wineries and grape growing blocks had almost returned to levels experienced before 2008 when the market was hit by the global financial crash.

The chief executive of Marlborough Grape Producers Cooperative, Craig Howard, confirmed volumes would be down but there was a lot of variation - "everyone has their own truth in the wine industry", Howard said.

Some Gisborne and Hawkes Bay growers have reported better yields but they may be exceptions. 

North Canterbury Waipara grape grower Pete Smith of LongSmith Partnership said the bad harvest in his area helped him sell all his available pinot noir harvest, which had been unsold a month before the end of harvest.

"No one's got clean grapes, there was quite a bit of disease. Mine were clean until the rain in late March but I managed to keep on top of it with disciplined spraying.

Smith said he had been unable to harvest any of his reisling grapes because they were hit with botrytis.

"Botrytis is good when the weather is dry and the grapes can dry out but when it's wet they go mushy. A lot of starlings are having fun at the moment."

Sam Weaver, wine maker at Mount Beautiful in Waipara said in spite of the challenges he thinks north Canterbury missed the worst of the weather.

"Ripening was late and in comparison to the past two years fruit maturity was slightly less.

"Towards the last 10 days of of harvest, however, we picked some excellent fruit across most varieties. In some respects that later picked fruit was better than some picked in 2016.

"This goes for sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris.

"The early picks of all varieties lack a little in depth and maturity but will make very passable wine.

"The outstanding varieties for Mount Beautiful will be chardonnay and pinot noir, and we have some good batches of sauvignon blanc.

"The most challenging variety this year was riesling which we picked relatively early due to disease.

"We picked all blocks and came through remarkably well. Yields in pinot noir were significantly down other varietals were near previous years, Weaver said.

The picture in Otago was similar with yields lower than expected, according to Glenys Coughlan, general manager of the Central Otago Winegrowers Assocation.

"But our winemakers were excited by the taste of the fruit and they are enthusiastic about the quality of the vintage."

She said 76 per cent of Central Otago's grapes were pinot noir which responded well to stress.

 - Stuff

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