Rain and cooler temperatures delay sauvignon grape harvest in Marlborough

The Allan Scott Family Winemakers harvest crew, with winemaking and viticulture director Josh Scott, centre.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

The Allan Scott Family Winemakers harvest crew, with winemaking and viticulture director Josh Scott, centre.

Jeans not shorts, and a lack of after-work beers point to a cooler, wetter harvest that is far from the dream run the Marlborough wine industry had last year, a viticulturist says.

The first grapes for sparkling wine came off the vines the last week of February, followed by a temporary lull, but activity has ramped up again over the past few days as companies start bringing in sauvignon blanc.

Allan Scott Family Winemakers winemaking and viticulture director Josh Scott said the harvest tap turned on Wednesday, with more harvesters and trucks on the road.

A truck and trailer unit could take about 25 tonnes of grapes, transporting them from the vineyard to the winery, where staff start unloading, pressing and preparing to ferment.

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Scott said this harvest the vines were looking a lot greener than usual, the result of more rainfall that pushed back the pick and led to increased disease pressure.

But harvest staff were not sitting around waiting. The Moa Brewery Bar, which Scott founded, was unusually quiet, something he put down to the weather and the workload.

"I think everyone is pretty hands on just getting ready for harvest, the earthquake has put a lot of people back, so there are tanks to clean and things to get sorted," he said.

"We've got a real smorgasbord of harvest workers, from around the world, but since they arrived two weeks ago we haven't managed to go out and get a beer."

Scott said grapes had been coming into the winery in dribs and drabs, but sauvignon blanc would start arriving in bulk next week. While it was looking clean, botrytis was a risk.

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The fungal disease could cut crop loads drastically if it took hold. Rain fall increased the risk, as it caused the berries to swell up and crack, exposing the fruit to the disease.

"Botrytis is the big scary one for everyone. It's like a freight train, it starts off slowly and starts picking up steam, and when it gets to that stage it's really hard to stop," Scott said.

Figures from Climate Consulting climatologist Stu Powell showed Rapaura had 52 millimetres of rain in March, with the most falling in the upper Wairau Valley, which had 102mm.

Nautilus Estate viticulturist Mike Collins said, while it was wetter than last year, Marlborough paled in comparison to the Hawke's Bay which he said had about 300mm since mid-February.

Not that viticulturists wanted more. Ideally, the rain would hold off for the rest of harvest which, for Nautilus, was expected to be over about the same time as last year, Collins said.

Heagney Bros managing director Peter Heagney said it was a lot quieter for his drivers this March, however he expected the workload to crank up in April when the majority of the sauvignon was picked.

Heagney said the company had 20 trucks working over harvest. It also took on between 15 and 20 extra staff to manage the double shifts needed to bring in the grapes from the vineyard.

"We've other work we do all year round, but what makes it busier and harder to co-ordinate over harvest is we're doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Heagney said.

Drivers could work a maximum of 70 hours a week, which Heagney said was usually spread over six days, before they had to take a 24-hour break. 

 - The Marlborough Express

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