A Marlborough winery that capped its fruit intake has made the heartbreaking decision to drop excess fruit to the ground.
Saint Clair Family Estate chief winemaker Hamish Clark and vineyard manager Les Masters made the call to drop fruit at the end of this year's harvest, after the bumper crop and the rain proved to be a damning combination.
Two weeks of constant rain was an unfortunate end to harvest, Clark said.
"It was just about trying to get the very best blocks in in periods where it wasn't pelting down with rain. [It was] not ideal."
Now, the leftover fruit needed to come off the vines to prepare the vineyards for next year's crop, he said.
"This is something that doesn't generally occur . . . it's the first time we have offered to drop fruit to the ground.
"[This] means the vines are nice and tidied up, it minimises disease through the canopies and also there is always the temptation to on-sell any extras."
Clark said he was completely against the on-selling of left-over fruit. "We just can't get into a situation where quality Marlborough sauvignon is being undermined by commodity players."
Saint Clair Family Estate was not the only one faced with the decision to drop fruit, he said.
"I think there have been other companies that have definitely put caps in place, but we have taken the next step and gone back to our growers and said we would pay for the fruit to be dropped to the ground at our expense.
"In earlier years it would have all been harvested, otherwise there is that small temptation that if it is still on the vine it will be on-sold by the growers."
There was no excess fruit for them in 2012 and 2013, so he had not been faced with this decision before.
Saint Clair Family Estate was one of many wineries in the region that chose to thin before the fruit began to ripen. This was to ensure the fruit left on the vines would be high quality.
But it was always hard to know whether you had thinned enough, he said.
"With sauvignon, everybody tries to get it right, but the berries and bunches tend to get bigger and bigger especially with a year like this.
"We've been reasonably insistent on making sure that we get the good quality fruit that we are after, but it needs to be capped."
Before 2008, there was not enough fruit to supply the market, he said.
"All of a sudden when 2008 hit we had so much more fruit than anticipated that we just saturated the market. So it was a bit of a hard lesson."
He said this was the first year since 2008 that they'd had more than enough fruit.
Wine Marlborough board chairman Clive Jones said there was always going to be a certain amount of fruit people would not be able to harvest as a result of caps and the rain.
"It was always going to be a difficult time in the rain.
"It can't not have any impact on the wine. What that impact is we won't know until we see the end product."
The sudden downpour of rain in early April had not been ideal weather to be harvesting in, Jones said.
"It has been a reminder to everyone that we are in the agriculture sector . . . [and] there is always a risk.
"I think there was a lot of good fruit before then."
- The Marlborough Express
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