Hopes high for late grape harvest

By Colin Williscroft

This year's national grape harvest is running two or three weeks later than usual but hopes are high that quality will not be compromised.

Winegrowers' chief executive Philip Gregan says that despite the harvest being two or three weeks behind there are signs that the grapes were of good quality.

"The vintage is late in many parts of the country but that does not mean we're not going to have a good one," Gregan says. "It's important not to confuse lateness with poor quality."

"There are plenty of signs that the flavours are good.

"There's a level of excitement about it."

Gisborne and Hawke's Bay had started picking much later than usual, he says, while Marlborough vineyards have only just started harvesting sauvignon blanc, which is normally well under way before the end of March.

Central Otago is the best-placed wine-growing region because of its fine, warm summer, Gregan says.

The weather has had an impact on the flowering and fruit-set in some regions, he says, which has reduced the size of the crop.

A pre-vintage survey carried out by Winegrowers earlier this year indicated a national harvest of about 300,000 tonnes of grapes, down from last year's record 328,000 tonnes.

However, Gregan says that he did not image that figure would be reached.

"It's very hard to say what it will end up at.

"It's a nervous time for everybody.

"In recent years our wine regions have benefited from some superb Indian summers and we are very hopeful this will be repeated again in 2012."

He is heartened by the fine weather that the country experienced over Easter and is hoping for more of the same during the next few weeks.

The quantity of grapes expected to be harvested in Wairarapa this season is likely to be in line with an average year, despite a cooler summer setting picking back a couple of weeks.

It is a similar story around the rest of the country.

Larry McKenna, owner of Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough - where picking began on April 3 - says the vineyard's blocks of vines that had been picked have produced what he would expect in an average year. He believes his vineyard will produce about five or six tonnes of grapes a hectare, which is fairly normal.

Although the harvest is running late, with Escarpment about three weeks later than normal, Wairarapa vineyards have fared better than some of their North Island counterparts.

"There's been a lot of doom and gloom out of the Hawke's Bay and it's been very tough for them," McKenna says.

"While it's been a below average summer here, we've been a little bit drier that they have."

The quality of what had been picked up until the wet weather arrived late last week pleases McKenna.

"I've been pretty happy with it," he says. "It's all in good condition so far but we're still waiting to see what the rest of the vintage is going to be like.

"It's in the lap of the gods."

The early varieties of grapes to be picked, such as chardonnay, pinot noir, gewurztraminer and pinot gris are looking good at this stage, McKenna says, although it's too early to say about the later-ripening Bordeaux-style varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and riesling.

McKenna expects "full on" picking from next week, with about 90 per cent of his crop harvested within the next two or three weeks.

Picking at Matahiwi Estate, Masterton, was also held up by the rain, although general manager and chief winemaker Jane Cooper expects it will get into full swing this week. Cooper is taking a wait-and-see approach because Wairarapa did not receive the warm weather it usually did in the first three months of the year.

- Hamilton News

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