Vineyard techniques help save fruit in sodden Marlborough grape harvest

Marlborough vineyards get a drenching during this year's wet weather grape harvest.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Marlborough vineyards get a drenching during this year's wet weather grape harvest.

Years ago it could have been a disaster, but technology and experience have helped the wine industry through what has charitably been described as a difficult season.

Ex-Cyclone Cook and another low-pressure system earlier in the week dumped the equivalent of two months' worth of rain in the space of two days in Marlborough.

Climate Consulting climatologist Stu Powell said in the 48-hours to Friday morning the worst-affected areas, Ward and Waihopai Valley, each received 129 millimetres of rain.

This comes after a streak of wet weather, which has led to spread of the fungal disease botrytis and some wine companies rejecting fruit above a certain threshold.

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Viticulture consultant Murray Paterson said 20 years ago the weather would have been a disaster, but improved technology and management practices had shown their worth.

Leaf plucking helped minimise the spread of botrytis, as the removal of leaves meant sprays were better targeted and there was more air on the berries to dry them out, he said.

Some larger wine companies also had reverse osmosis systems, which removed excess water, allowing them to take fruit where the sugar content had been diluted by the rain.

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"If this happened 20 years ago it would have been a disaster, I would say it's certainly been difficult, and for some growers it would have been disastrous," Paterson said.

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"But we've become more sophisticated with our application of sprays and vineyard canopy management, so growers aren't in the same dire straits as they were in '95."

Forrest Wines co-owner Dr John Forrest said, aside from the presence of botrytis, the flavours, acid levels and general quality of the fruit looked to be above average.

While he had heard of some wine companies rejecting fruit, Forrest Wines - which was basically finished its harvest - had not turned any crops away, Forrest said.

"It's a year where more modest or normal crop levels have resulted in ripe fruit which was harvested ahead of the significant rain, and in terms of quality it's been good."

"But we've had so much more rain and quite a bit has been warm rain, so we've had more rot pressure than is normal for Marlborough."

 - The Marlborough Express

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