Early harvest for some wine producers

This vineyard in the Awatere Valley hints at the dry conditions grapegrowers have faced heading into this year's harvest.

This vineyard in the Awatere Valley hints at the dry conditions grapegrowers have faced heading into this year's harvest.

Marlborough winemakers and viticulturists are closely monitoring sugar levels in their grapes as they prepare for another early harvest.

Last year, wineries in the region began picking fruit in late February - the earliest pick for most - and this year appears to be similiar.

Nautilus Estate was likely to be first up, with winery manager and winemaker Clive Jones expecting to start picking tomorrow or Thursday. They would start by harvesting pinot noir for their sparkling wine.

"Harvest will be slightly earlier than normal, but this particular block is early anyway."

If they started picking this week, Jones said it would be only the third time they had begun harvesting in February.

The first time was in 2006 and the second was last year.

Jones was pleased with the quality of fruit they would be working with, despite his initial concerns about smoke from the 600-hectare Onamalutu fire, which burned for days, tainting fruit in their Kaituna Vineyard block.

"We've had a look at the smoke-taint trials and we don't see anything we are worried about it. We don't think it will be an issue."

Jones, who is also Wine Marlborough board chairman, said the season had not come without its challenges. Wineries throughout the region had needed to battle frosts and manage water supplies, but most wineries had dealt with the conditions well, he said.

"The majority of the region is looking pretty comfortable and is carrying a moderate crop and their fruit is in reasonable condition.

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"If they've managed the season appropriately people should be looking forward to producing good quality," Jones said.

Spy Valley Wines chief winemaker Paul Bourgeois said he was also pleased with the quality of fruit. They would begin harvesting during the first week of March.

"We haven't planned anything at all this week, chances are we will start next week.

"We started quite early with sauvignon [blanc] last year and it's going to be a little bit early this year but that's probably because the crops are lower."

Cloudy Bay Vineyards senior winemaker Tim Heath said they were likely to start harvesting next week. Pinot noir, used to make their sparkling wine, would be first off the block.

"It will most likely be the first week of March but it's pretty hard to call at the moment - anywhere from probably the 4th to the 6th of March."

Tohu Wines winemaker Bruce Taylor said they were still a couple of weeks away from harvest.

"We've had a dry summer and we are really just starting to attract the sugar levels we need but I'm hoping we can pick some chardonnay in the next two weeks."

 - The Marlborough Express

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