Grape harvest gets an autumn reprieve
A smaller harvest means consumers should expect to pay more for wine this year, say Nelson winemakers.
But the quality of the local vintage should be among the best in the country after superb autumn weather rescued what was shaping up to be a difficult season.
With just a few late red varieties and some riesling still to pick this week, the Nelson harvest is expected to be down 20 per cent on last year to under 6000 tonnes after downpours in December badly affected the flowering of some varieties. Worst affected were gewurztraminer, merlot and pinot noir, with pockets of pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay and mainstay variety sauvignon blanc also hit.
However, Nelson Winegrowers Association chairman Mike Brown said the settled spell over March and April had allowed grapes to fully ripen, with the smaller crop leading to concentrated flavours.
"Quality is a lot better than initially thought and after a really difficult start it's going to be quite a good year."
Kahurangi Estate managing director Greg Day said pinot gris and chardonnay looked particularly good, while sauvignon blanc, although a bit variable, would be on a par with last year.
As many Marlborough vineyard struggled with smaller crops, and many were still to pick fruit in some of the colder valleys, Nelson wineries were far better placed to produce quality wines, he said.
"If Nelson has a chance of usurping Marlborough in terms of quality, then this is the year.
"The autumn weather was a lifesaver and Central Otago and us have had the best of it."
Mr Day said Kahurangi had processed a little less than 600 tonnes of grapes, well down on the 750 tonnes estimated before the season, which would be tough on some of his contracted growers who had seen their crops fall by 30 per cent or more.
However, a lower harvest was good for the industry, because it would get rid of most of the "shonky" bulk sauvignon blanc from the market.
The bulk wine had driven prices down and hurt winery profitability, he said.
Bulk prices had been steadily rising and he said they were likely to firm again in the next few weeks.
He expected to pay his growers about $1300 to $1400 per tonne, compared with $900 to $1000 last year. "I think a lot of Nelson growers have been saved by Marlborough guys who have been over here buying up everything they can. Those that didn't have a home for their grapes probably did a lot better than those with fixed contracts."
Mr Brown said the higher price for grapes would inevitably flow through into higher retail prices.
"The smaller harvest will help push up pricing right through the chain and that's good because no-one does well when wine is selling at $10 a bottle."
After several years of struggling to survive, growers and wineries needed higher prices to boost their profitability, although the smaller harvest would bring some short term pain, he said.
There would still be some cheap wine from those wineries in the throes of receivership, but that would soon disappear, he said.
The grape oversupply that bedevilled the industry had vanished, with the price for bulk Marlborough sauvignon blanc rising to $4.50 to $5 a litre, twice what it was two years ago, he said.
"A few years ago growers couldn't give chardonnay away, now there is not enough of it out there."
Brightwater grape grower Gerry Brown, who owns or oversees about 60 hectares of mainly sauvignon blanc, said December's wet weather was also likely to lead to a lower harvest next season as fruiting was partly determined a year ahead.
This should see grape prices continue to rise as wineries tried to secure sufficient volumes, he said. Growers would welcome any increase after the hard times of the past few years.
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