Jo Burzynska: Vintage update

By Jo Burzynska

The sun shines on a vineyard on Waiheke Island. Picture / Supplied
The sun shines on a vineyard on Waiheke Island. Picture / Supplied

What a difference a few weeks make when it comes to the weather over the grape harvest. In a column last month I'd spoken to winegrowers who considered they were on the cusp of an effortlessly good vintage. Now their talk is of lucky escapes and laments against the lashings of rain some regions have since received.

For many, the vintage did deliver its promise. I touched down in Hawkes Bay on the tail of the ex-Cyclone Ita that unleashed torrential rains and high winds across the country, where I caught up with Clearview winemaker, Tim Turvey.

"If this was a normal year, we'd still have grapes out there," Turvey told me, as we watched the trees of the Te Awanga coast twist in the tempest. "However, as the harvest started so early the only grapes we haven't yet picked are those for our botrytised dessert wine."

Sweet success or soggy failure, this vintage would largely appear to be down to whether winegrowers got their grapes in before the rains came. In the warmer regions of the North Island a dry and sunny start to autumn and early harvest meant most seem pleased if not ebullient about what they have fermenting.

"Everyone was pretty much done in Martinborough as picking started early and it was warm and dry for most of harvest," commented Martinborough Vineyard's Paul Mason. "Rain for the last week caught the last blocks, but all the good stuff well and truly done by then."

Central Otago too has dodged the deluges. But head to the top and middle of the South Island and the going gets tougher.

In Marlborough, the powerhouse of the wine industry, warm, dry weather after the showers bestowed by Cyclone Lusi helped the region's grapes bounce back. Quality conscious winegrowers who cropped their vines low appear to have ripened most of their fruit before the big storms hit. However, with some of the larger crops left out over recent watery weeks, one winemaker quipped that they were "pleased that's not destined for my tanks", while professing being happy with what they'd harvested earlier on.

Christchurch experienced its wettest March on record and rain has fallen almost solidly over Canterbury in recent weeks. Grape sugar levels have been falling rather than increasing during this crucial time of the season, with one winemaker declaring it the worst vintage they'd witnessed in the 12 years they'd been making wine in the region. However, timing and selective harvesting means good wines will still be made.

Thankfully our winemakers are more clued up than ever about how to manage the vagaries of Mother Nature in the vineyard and turn these into decent drops in the winery. My advice in more challenging years is always to stick with the quality producers and avoid the cheapest examples, which is likely where the less successful wines of the season are destined to end up.

- VIVA

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