Grapegrowers clamour for new vines
The South Island's only rootstock producer is unable to meet demand for grapevine plants, as wineries race to secure enough fruit to supply their markets.
Ormond Nursery general manager Ben Wickham said the nursery pulled out 90 per cent of its rootstock vines after demand for plants fell in 2008, but replanted some in winter last year after the industry started showing signs of recovery.
It would take another couple of years before the Grovetown nursery was producing enough rootstock to be able to meet demand, he said.
"We saw demand pick up last year; after the short 2012 vintage, wineries realised they would have a shortage of grapes going ahead.
"But we had to start from scratch. It takes two to three years to get the mother vines up to speed, and we can't quite meet demand for this year and next year."
Before 2008 there were 35 nurseries in New Zealand supplying grapevines. But the oversupply of wine, which coincided with the global financial crisis in 2008, caused vineyard development to dry up virtually overnight.
Of the five nurseries left, Ormond Nursery was the only one in the South Island.
Grapevine propagation was a costly, labour-intensive activity, and there were at least three years of work and growth in the nursery before the plants were ready to be planted out in vineyards.
Last year, demand for plants trebled compared to 2011, although it was from a "very very low base", he said.
This year, demand trebled again, and the nursery increased staff numbers from about 10 to 35 in two years, which was still only half of what it was doing before 2008.
It took two to three years before the rootstock mother plants began producing canes for grafting.
In the second year of growth they produced about 30 to 40 canes, then about 150 canes in the 3rd year, and 200 canes when they reached full production.
"Just like grapevines take two to three years before they start producing grapes, it's the same with rootstock," Mr Wickham said.
"It's very difficult for nurseries to know how much rootstock to produce, because by the time we get up to speed with demand, no doubt it will dive again."
The rootstock canes were harvested in winter, trimmed to 35 centimetre lengths, then grafted with a commercial grape variety such as sauvignon blanc, pinot noir or chardonnay.
The cuttings spent the next year in the nursery before they were ready to be planted in the vineyards, where it could be another two to three years before they started to produce grapes.
- The Marlborough Express