Dry summer: vintage potentially 'best in 30 years'

By Roger Moroney, Natalie Akoorie

Hawke's Bay is among many wine growing regions in the country on the verge of a vintage year, where 2013 wines are tipped to hold the most "stunning" flavours in recent history, thanks to the long, dry summer.

While the drought conditions have plagued farmers, wine growers are relishing the weather patterns and crossing their fingers for more of the same during the final few weeks of harvest. Pask Winery 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 that's not happy."

The Hawke's Bay winery had already harvested its sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and chardonnay berries and would look to begin merlot this weekend.

"Our reds are maturing beautifully on the vine. It looks magnificent." It meant that 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 tail end of the season but it looks like we're very well positioned. So it's very exciting."

"It is a winemaker's dream," was how Ngatarawa senior winemaker and viticulturist Peter Gough put it.

His winemaking colleagues agreed, with Mission Estate's Paul Mooney describing the 2013 results as "a very good vintage - just so good". "My gut feeling is that these wines [2013] as they evolve over the next few years will age very, very well ... Hawke's Bay will be making the best wines ever.

Mr Mooney likened it to other golden vintages experienced in 1983, 1989 and 1998, but would likely eclipse them as viticulture practices had improved over the past decade. "It has been a great summer for us and with grapes like this there is a lot more pleasure in winemaking ... it's more fun."

He said yield quantities were about average. New Zealand Wine Growers board member Doug Bell believed this year would be a "one-in-30 year vintage".

Mr Bell, a wine grower and president of Gisborne Wine Growers, said dry weather provided the perfect elements for excellent quality grapes.

"We're harvesting chardonnay today and I'm looking out the window of my tractor and it's just golden fruit down a green hedge row. It's just 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 didn't believe production would increase significantly, and that the surplus of wine of the record-breaking 2008 harvest had dried up, meaning prices for quality and usually inexpensive New Zealand wine would begin to climb. Mr Bell said together with 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". Together with technology, the nature of the grape plants and the skill of the winemakers, the industry was in a strong position to capitalise on the vintage, he said. "We've sort of settled down into a very experienced wine country."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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