Warm weather puts pressure on pickers
Vineyard workers face a hectic harvest as grapes ripen at once following a scorching summer and frost-fighting also kicks in.
Viticultura Central Otago co-owner Tim Deaker said vineyards and varieties normally reached picking point at different times, but this season the hot weather had ripened grapes at a similar rate, putting pressure on harvesting staff.
Frosts had also started on cue on April 4, further stretching vineyards' resources.
Sugar levels in grapes normally rose by one brix every seven to 10 days but, up until harvest began on April 3, the level had increased by two-and-a-half brix during the preceding six days.
The pace was similar at Hawke's Bay, Martinborough and Marlborough vineyards, which began
harvesting earlier than in Central Otago.This caused a labour bottleneck as they battled to pick grapes at the optimum time.
Mr Deaker said his company, which managed vineyards from the Waitaki to Gibbston valleys, was confident it could cope with the unexpected situation.
It had employed a "huge crew" of pickers, mainly from Vanuatu, and would hire backpackers if more resources were required.
Harder than expected frosts at the weekend had also forced the company to change some of its picking plans, as some canopies were showing signs of failing.
Despite the challenges, a superb vintage of Central Otago pinot noir was expected this season - a far cry from the pessimism of some viticulturists following the damaging frost on November 4. Warm nights throughout the growing season had reduced the amount of acid in the fruit, which would result in a different style of wine, Mr Deaker said.
Winemaker Jen Parr, who has worked at Terra Sancta Wines at Bannockburn since 2007, agreed the vintage would be "an exceptional one for the decade".
The November frost had reduced the yield but this, combined with months of hot dry weather, had increased the quality.
"The flavours we are picking so far are really the most beautiful flavours I have tasted since I've been here.
"Bright, beautiful, balanced and we're picking early so the alcohol should certainly be lower."