Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Winemakers raise glass to big dry

Top quality 2013 vintage predicted - and prices expected to firm

Kate Radburnd of Pask Winery said conditions were so good that growers were making decisions to pick based solely on quality, not what the weather might do next. Photo / APN
Kate Radburnd of Pask Winery said conditions were so good that growers were making decisions to pick based solely on quality, not what the weather might do next. Photo / APN

New Zealand's wine industry is on the verge of producing a terrific vintage thanks to the long, dry summer.

While the drought has plagued farmers, wine growers are relishing the warm weather patterns and crossing their fingers for more of the same during the final weeks of harvest.

New Zealand Wine Growers board member Doug Bell believes the 2013 vintage will produce the most "stunning" flavours and is the best quality he has seen in 30 years.

"No bullshit - it is outstanding."

Mr Bell, who is president of Gisborne Wine Growers, said: "We're harvesting chardonnay today and I'm looking out the window of my tractor and it's just golden fruit down a green hedgerow. It's fantastic. I don't think I'll see another one in my lifetime."

Flavours were predicted to be "pure". "There's no other influence there. The grapes have ripened fully so they've got good balance. There's a freshness and a fruitiness to the wine that is outstanding.

It is just a stunner."

However, he believed production would not increase significantly, and that the surplus of wine seen in the record-breaking 2008 harvest had dried up, meaning prices for quality and usually inexpensive New Zealand wine would begin to climb.

That oversupply had also led to an erosion in grape and land prices resulting in several wineries going bust.

Mr Bell said that as well as growing wine exports, worth $1.1 billion, the industry had the capacity to cope with a bigger production following last year's shortfall.

"Since 2008 the market is bigger and resultingly we should be able to tolerate a bigger vintage."

Villa Maria Estate founder and owner Sir George Fistonich said it was too early to tell if it would be a vintage year but at the very least it would be "very good".

He said the difference this year was that the whole country had experienced similar dry conditions.

"We've never had it so evenly across the country."

Technology, the nature of the grape plants and the skill of the winemakers put the industry in a strong position to capitalise on the 2013 vintage, Sir George said.

"We've sort of settled down into a very experienced wine country."

A premium year would help to enhance that reputation.

Pask Winery's chief winemaker and managing director, Kate Radburnd, said they had "beautiful, ripe, clean fruit" on the vines.

"All I can say is the growing season has been an absolute delight. I don't know of anyone who's not happy."

The Hawkes Bay winery had already harvested its sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and chardonnay fruit and would look to begin merlot this weekend.

"Our reds are maturing beautifully on the vine. It looks magnificent."

The good conditions meant growers could make harvesting decisions based purely on quality.

"We're not being forced because of rain or humidity or anything like that."

Even if the region sustained some rain she said the grapes were so sound they would "hold up fine" until harvest's end.

"No one wants to jinx the season's tail end but it looks like we're very well positioned. It's very exciting."

Sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and some chardonnays will be on the shelves within six months.


Perfect pick

What creates great wine

• Dry, warm conditions

• No frosts and little rain

• Ripe, clean grapes at harvest


Out this weekend: A Listener investigation into boom and bust in the Marlborough wine industry.

- NZ Herald

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