As the 2017 grape harvest gets into full swing, Central Otago Winegrowers Association general manager Glenys Coughlan said there was consensus among members that it had been a ”challenging” growing season, resulting in lower crop yields, but ”much more interesting fruit.”
A warm start to the growing season was followed by strong winds and cold temperatures through a fairly dismal summer, but recent conditions had resulted in a good ripening period, she said.
”Pinot noir is 76% of our planted areas and it responds well to stress, so we can expect some great reds.”
Wooing Tree, in Cromwell was one of the first vineyards to start picking grapes with work expected to finish today.
Co-owner Geoff Bews described the 2017 harvest as ”short and sharp” with below-average yields, smaller bunches of grapes but good-quality fruit.
”In January we just got those windy days and lack of sunshine, and vines don’t like the stress of winds in that critical time of fruit development.”
Quartz Reef winemaker Rudi Bauer described the growing season as ”turbulent” with lots of wind and the average temperature half a degree lower than average in December and January.
In the vineyard’s 30 years they had never experienced a growing season like this one, with different blocks ripening at different times. They were a week later than usual in picking, but the quality was high.
Two Paddocks general manager Jacqui Murphy said it was five days behind the 2016 harvest date and expected to start picking on April 10.
Current crop estimates were 15% to 20% down on last year’s yield, due to the windy spring and summer.
The windier vineyard sites were more affected and of their Alexandra, Bannockburn and Gibbston vineyards, their Alexandra site seemed the most promising.
Wanaka’s Rippon vineyard commercial manager Pete Eastwood said it had been a different growing season to last year.
”We didn’t get the heat we normally associate with summer here in Wanaka, so it pushed the harvest back to allow ripening, but we had beautiful weather in March and the fruit is tasting sensational at the moment.”
Timbo Deaker, co-owner of vineyard services provider Viticultura, said while picking was now going at ”full speed” in the Clutha Basin, it would not start in Gibbston vineyards for at least a fortnight.
Gibbston vineyards traditionally started picking just before Anzac Day, and his company’s lab testing of sugar levels indicated the area was ”tracking that way at the moment”.
It was a stressful time for viticulturalists.
”We’re feeling a little bit fragile with where things are and very gingerly watching the weather patterns forming.”
The area had ”dodged a few bullets” from the weather since the beginning of summer, and the vines and crops were in good condition.
Like Central Otago, about 75% of the grapes grown in Gibbston were pinot noir.
”Pinot noir like long, slow ripening, and it’s all lined up for that to happen.”
-Additional reporting by Kerrie Waterworth