Lusi threatens record harvest

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 06:33 14/03/2014

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Grape growers are hoping that bad-weather forecasts for the weekend will not put a dampener on the harvest, which is tipped to be one of the biggest and best yet.

The harvest began late last month in northern regions and will continue until May.

With favourable growing conditions this summer, hopes are high for an excellent vintage.

Philip Gregan, chief executive of New Zealand Winegrowers, said the current warm, dry days and cool nights boded well for a "memorable, high-quality vintage" after big harvest last year.

However, Martinborough vintner Richard Riddiford, of Palliser Estate, said he could only hope the forecast heavy rain from Cyclone Lusi would not damage the grapes.

"We don't really need a cyclone just at this point. Wind won't do anything, it hinders what you can do . . . but rain can be damaging."

Riddiford confirmed the harvest this year was "big and it's good".

Industry estimates were that it would be 20 per cent larger than last year's stellar harvest of 345,000 tonnes.

But the welter of grapes could add some pressures for processors and exporters.

Marlborough's processing capacity had been reduced by last year's Seddon earthquakes, so "the capacity for the industry to process that will be stretched to the limit".

Also the strong NZ dollar was "not helpful" for exporters seeking markets for the extra wine. Nevertheless, the big harvest was welcomed by NZ Winegrowers.

Gregan said export wine earnings were expected to exceed $1.3 billion by the end of the financial year, beating last year's record of $1.27b.

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- BusinessDay

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