New Zealand’s wine industry counts the cost of a difficult season, with yields down on last year
A challenging season for New Zealand winegrowers, with yields down across most regions, has left them counting their losses – and for the lucky few, some gains.
While there was no single weather event in Marlborough to impact yield, temperatures were cooler than normal with more wind and cloud coverage than usual.
A recent Department of Agriculture report said: “even though the production area is estimated to be 2% greater at 37,000 hectares, less than ideal weather conditions over the growing season in Marlborough (over 66% of the total area) have restricted the yield potential”. It also noted that some of the new growing area is made up of immature vines that are not yet at full production
Earlier this year it was predicted that predicted that volumes would be down by around 4% on 2016, but New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said full harvest figures would not be available until the end of June.
“It’s been challenging,” he admitted. “The vintage will be smaller than the industry expected. Unfortunately some years we get grapes left on the vine.”
The majority of New Zealand’s wine exports are Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough where winemaker John Hoare from Bayleys vineyard is one of those who have been badly hit this season. “There’s a lot of hurt out there,” he told Stuff. “Nobody is panicking but everyone is watching.”
The impact of the poor harvest will likely first hit home in June, when repayments are due, he said. “To get one hectare of grapes from winter to the next harvest cost about $8000 to $10,000. It’s a lot of money if you haven’t had any income from the last harvest.”
Marlborough Grapes Producers Cooperative Craig Howard confirmed volumes would be down, but said there was a lot of variation, with some growers in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay actually reporting improved yields on 2016, though they are likely to be the exceptions.
North Canterbury Waipara grape grower Pete Smith of LongSmith said the poor harvest in his area enabled him to sell his entire Pinot Noir harvest, which had remained unsold a month before the end of the picking season. However, he said he had been unable to pick any of his Riesling grapes as they were blighted by botrytis.
Sam Weaver, a grower at Mount Beautiful in Waipara in north Canterbury was fortunate enough to miss the worst of the weather. “Ripening was late and in comparison to the past two years fruit maturity was slightly less.”
Fruit picked towards the end of the harvest was better than some of that picked in 2016, he said. “The early picks of all varieties lack a little depth and maturity but will make very passable wine. “
Those varietals which produced the best quality grapes this year include Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with some “good batches of Sauvignon Blanc. He reported the most challengingvariety this year was the Riesling which was picked early due to the risk of disease. Yields in Pinot Noir were significantly down on other varieties, which were similar to previous years, Weaver added.
The picture in Otago was similar, with lower yields than expected, according to Gleny Coughlan, general manager of the Central Otago Winegrowers Association. However, she said that winemakers were “excited” by the fruit and “enthusiastic about the quality of the vintage.” She added that three quarters of Central Otago’s grapes were Pinot Noir which typically respond well to stress.