Cuts crucial to cope with bumper grape crop
A bumper crop is taking shape in Marlborough's vineyards, with many growers forced to cut fruit to the ground.
Grapeworx Marlborough owner Mack Pouwhare, who counts Mudhouse Wines among his clients, said it was one of the biggest crops he had seen.
"It ranges from 18 to 30 tonne to each hectare.
"We are looking at big crops."
Mr Pouwhare had employed an extra 130 people, on top of his existing 65 staff members to cope with the extra work.
"The way the season's been this year, it's crazy. It's been hectic.
"I had to employ 80 backpackers before Christmas and 50 after Christmas."
He and his workers have had to thin crops in every vineyard they are contracted to.
"They are big crops. Huge crops. We are dropping anywhere from five to 25 bunches from the vines."
He said without dropping fruit, there would be issues with ripening.
Matua Marlborough grower relations manager Anton Groffen said they had been cutting off fruit as well as canes. He said it was as much about maintaining good fruit flavour as it was about ripening. "The reason we are doing it is for quality. We've had some big yields."
He said the large crop this year could be attributed to the weather about 18 months ago, when warm, dry and windy weather got bud fertilisation off to a good start.
"[Then] the favourable weather in December  helped with the flowering.
"It was the double-whammy."
Lawson's Dry Hills Winery general manager Sion Barnsley said they had also been forced to strip fruit in their vineyards.
"We have been shoot thinning and normally that is sufficient but this [dropping fruit] is not normal by any means."
Mr Barnsley said despite this, the lead up to the harvest was going "rather well".
"We have never seen yield this big at this stage."
He said with the harvest likely to start earlier this year, there were also implications for ripening. "While the season is earlier you still run the risk of not getting the crop ripe."
Auntsfield Estate general manager and viticulturist Ben Cowley said they have also been dropping fruit."We've done a lot of work especially through the vineyards reducing crop to their normal levels."
They are reducing crops on their sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir blocks.
With such great weather the crops will be ready sooner than anticipated, he said.
In 2008 a bumper crop - 194,639 tonnes - caused problems for the region's growers and wine companies, with a glut of grapes forcing prices down. While yields have grown since then, markets have also been nurtured, balancing out supply and demand.
In 2009 192,128 tonnes of grapes were harvested in Marlborough.
In 2010 182,658
In 2011 244,893
In 2012 188,649
In 2013 251,680
The Marlborough Express