UN look to Marlborough grape vine pruning crews

CHLOE WINTER
Last updated 12:20 15/05/2014
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CHLOE WINTER/FAIRFAX NZ
HARD YAKKA: Niran Phnathum from Thailand hand-strips vines in a vineyard near Spring Creek.

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Marlborough's autumn colours are slowly disappearing as vine-pruning contractors move in to prepare the vineyards for next season's growth.

Alapa Viticultural Services owner Alan Wilkinson has a team of 230 workers for the pruning season.

The workers were from Thailand, Japan, Samoa, China, Malaysia and the Czech Republic and would stay until the end of the season in September.

By that time, more than four million plants would have been pruned, stripped and wrapped, Wilkinson said.

He had a crew of 70 working in Cloudy Bay's Widow Block vineyard in Renwick yesterday.

Each worker could cut and wrap about 600 plants a day, he said.

"They all work really hard . . . [but] you smoke through a bit when you are going good."

They began pruning on May 1. They would normally start on May 10, but his Recognised Seasonal Employer workers arrived at the beginning of the month so he had a small crew start hand-stripping a vineyard in Spring Creek that still had full canopies, Wilkinson said.

"When you've got your workers here you have to give them work."

Wilkinson said they do both hand-stripping and machine-stripping.

Hand-stripping was a lot slower and more labour-intensive, he said.

"When you start, you get sore wrists . . . it's just extra work and it's harder."

They were pruning the vines in both vineyards to three canes a plant, rather than four canes as they did last year, Wilkinson said.

"We had to cut the fourth one off though, because it was such a fantastic season so they decided to just lay three this year instead.

"A lot of people are going to lay three this year."

Wilkinson's workers were in the vineyards six days a week and would only be disrupted by heavy rain.

Harvest was complete on most vineyards, though there was still some fruit for dessert wine to come in, he said.

Framingham Wines general manager Tom Trolove said the last of their fruit for their dessert wine was now in.

Forrest Wines general manager Dan Taylor said they finished harvesting the last of their botrytis riesling fruit on Monday.

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- The Marlborough Express

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