Forecast rain puts pressure on winemakers as grape harvest looms
Winemakers are rushing to harvest some of Hawke's Bay's flagship red grape varietals ahead of heavy rain forecast for next week.
A low pressure system linked to tropical cyclone Debbie is bearing down on New Zealand, prompting winemakers across the country to scramble to harvest as many grapes as they can before the worst of the wet weather arrives, probably on Monday.
Rod McDonald, of Hawke's Bay's Rod McDonald Wines, said his plans to have most blocks of grapes picked by next Tuesday had been brought forward as a result of the wet forecast and now "for the most part we'll be done [harvesting] by Sunday".
Fine weather next week would have allowed the grapes to develop a higher sugar content but McDonald said hot, fine weather through January and February had allowed for plenty of "flavour development" in this year's crop of Hawke's Bay reds.
"We're certainly not down in the mouth about what's come in the gate so far. It looks pretty good."
Hawke's Bay Winegrowers deputy chairman Xan Harding said while merlot and syrah crops were in the process of being picked, the region's cabernet sauvignon grapes was "looking fantastic" but still needed a few weeks to fully ripen on the vines. Growers would be hoping next week's wet spell would be short-lived so that could happen.
In Martinborough, Ata Rangi winemaker Helen Masters said she expected to be busy harvesting over the weekend ahead of the forecast rain, but some blocks of the region's pinot noir grapes still required more ripening.
Winemakers avoid picking in the wet because of the increased risk of grape-splitting, fungus and disease, but are also wary of leaving fruit too long on the vine.
NZ Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said weather considerations would be top of mind in Marlborough where harvesting of the country's largest varietal, sauvignon blanc, was due to get underway over the next week.
"We would prefer drier rather than wetter weather at this time of the year but you have to deal with what Mother Nature delivers. It varies from year to year – that's the reality of agriculture."
MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray said warm, moist air associated with tropical cyclone Debbie which caused havoc in Queensland was forming a "decent low" that would bring a "good dousing" of rain and wind to much of the country about Monday or Tuesday.
McDonald said Hawke's Bay winemakers had been blessed with several years of excellent growing conditions right up to harvest and this year's conditions would create more of a challenge in the winery.
"It's been a while since we've been put through our paces like this. We [winemakers] get to earn our keep this year."