Vineyards expect top-notch fruit
Harvesting is just around the corner for Central Otago wine producers but any national over-supply is unlikely to hit the regional market.
The industry is anticipating a bumper crop, which can lead to over-supply and price fluctuations, but Central Otago normally escapes the vagaries of the market because output is small and quality consistently high.
Over-supply in previous years hit growers and producers of white wine, especially sauvignon blanc, whereas Central Otago produces mainly pinot noir.
Central Otago growers and producers are aiming to harvest about Easter, with some a little earlier or later depending on sub-region climate.
Valli vineyard owner and winemaker Grant Taylor said yesterday that he was expecting a lighter than normal crop at his 3.6-hectare pinot noir block in Gibbston.
Grapes were small this year because of fewer sunshine hours during summer, he said.
"January was hardly summer and is the main month when the grapes get bigger. The berries are smaller, there's a much higher ratio of skin to juice."
Because the bunches were smaller grapes were not as tightly packed and were therefore less susceptible to rot.
Smaller grapes also meant more flavour.
Hawkdun Rise in Alexandra, a small 2ha, high-end producer that grows pinot noir and gewurztraminer, is run by husband and wife John and Suzanne Grant.
Mr Grant said the harvest was likely about Easter, a little earlier than previous years, with an average size crop and excellent fruit.
Winemakers normally described the Cromwell basin pinot noirs as big and bold while the Alexandra produce was more subtle and elegant.
"The fruit looks good. In our situation we aim for the top end of the market. The market's improving along with the economy."
Maori Point Vineyard in Tarras produces pinot noir and pinot gris from a 6.5ha block.
Owner John Harris said the winery was also aiming to harvest around Easter and benefited from a spell of fine, sunny weather.
"Everything's looking fine, we have got a very nice balanced crop. It's been a wonderful summer and autumn apart from a couple of frost alarms."
Maori Point focuses on the regional and South Island markets although there was some concern nationally about the potential for over-supply.
Grape brokers, mainly sellers of white varietals, were also having difficulties finding winemakers in Canterbury because plant including tanks were damaged by earthquakes.
This meant the spot market for excess crops could be a bit saturated, he said.
"There's a balance between Central Otago production and the big national companies who buy grapes and make wine."
The grape harvest has already started in other wine-growing regions and runs until May.
New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said he expects this year's vintage to reach record export value of $1.3 billion by the end of the financial year.
AT A GLANCE CENTRAL OTAGO WINE REGION
Four distinct climate sub-regions: Alexandra basin, Cromwell basin, Wanaka and Gibbston.
Total producing hectares: 1909 (1356ha pinot noir)
Production tonnage: 8400
Percentage of NZ production: 2.4
Source: New Zealand Winegrowers (2013 figures)
The Southland Times