Marlborough wine companies confident earthquake-damaged storage will be ready for vintage

Tanks on the ground at the Pernod Ricard tank farm, south of Blenheim.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Tanks on the ground at the Pernod Ricard tank farm, south of Blenheim.

With harvest less than a month away, wine companies in Marlborough are confident they have enough storage space to handle an influx of fruit.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake last November damaged tanks amounting to about 20 per cent of the total storage capacity in the region.

Since the disaster, wine companies have been working with insurers and engineers to repair or replace their tanks to make sure they can handle harvest.

Viticultural consultant Murray Paterson said the first grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine, could be harvested in the next two to three weeks.

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"The crop level is good this year, it's not as big as last year but I think we're looking at the long-term average plus 10 per cent," he said.

​The long-term average was about 14 tonnes of fruit per hectare, so Paterson said he was predicting crop yields of up to 16 tonnes per hectare.

However, chardonnay and other early varieties might see lower crop yields because of cooler temperatures during the flowering period in December, he said.

There was concern following the earthquake that the damage to storage tanks might hamper the ability of wine companies to process a full harvest.

To free up space, companies had been bottling early, transferring wine to other wineries outside the region and bringing in temporary storage tanks.

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Wine Press reported the cost of the earthquake to the wine industry, as estimated by insurance industry experts, at between $200 and $250 million.

Constellation Brands New Zealand senior vice president of production Colin Nolan said the company had suffered damage to a number of 200,000-litre tanks.

"We're actually working through some remedial work at the moment, temporarily repairing those tanks in preparation for harvest," he said.

Engineers were strengthening the bottom quarter of the damaged tanks, work Nolan said would be completed by harvest, after which they would be replaced.

The damage would have no impact on the amount of fruit the company planned to process at its Drylands winery, on Hammerichs Rd, about 30,000 tonnes, he said.

"Across the board the level of resilience shown within the community in Marlborough has been outstanding, I think we've recovered extraordinarily well."

A Pernod Ricard spokeswoman said they had some damage to their tanks and wine loss, however the company was confident there was adequate storage for vintage.

Following the earthquake, Pernod Ricard put a plan in motion to deal with the disaster, including relocating wine outside of the region and accelerating bottling to free up storage space.

They were also working with local suppliers to build new tanks in each of the key regions the company operated in, she said.

"We have been working with the wider industry around future tank design and supply chain to ensure that Marlborough as a whole is well-positioned for the upcoming vintage."

Villa Maria executive director Fabian Yukich said the company had tanks damaged in the earthquake, and they had developed a contingency plan to deal with the incident.

This included using additional space in the North Island for storage and fermentation, as well as ordering new tanks and conducting repairs on existing tanks, he said.

"As of today, all of the tanks are nearly completed with repairs."

 - The Marlborough Express

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