Wine­mak­ers fac­ing weather chal­lenge

The Dominion Post - - News - SI­MON HENDERY

Wine­mak­ers are rush­ing to har­vest some of Hawke’s Bay’s flag­ship red grape va­ri­etals ahead of heavy rain fore­cast for next week.

A low pres­sure sys­tem linked to trop­i­cal cy­clone Deb­bie is bear­ing down on New Zealand, prompt­ing lo­cal wine­mak­ers to scram­ble to har­vest as many grapes as pos­si­ble be­fore the worst of the wet weather ar­rives – prob­a­bly on Mon­day.

Rod McDon­ald, of Hawke’s Bay es­tate Rod McDon­ald Wine, said his plans to have most blocks of grapes picked by next Tues­day had been brought for­ward by the weather pre­dic­tion. Now ‘‘for the most part, we’ll be done [har­vest­ing] by Sun­day’’.

Fine weather next week would have let the grapes de­velop a higher su­gar con­tent, but McDon­ald said the hot, fine spells dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary had al­ready al­lowed for plenty of ‘‘flavour devel­op­ment’’ in this year’s crop of Hawke’s Bay reds.

‘‘We’re cer­tainly not down in the mouth about what’s come in the gate so far. It looks pretty good.’’

Hawke’s Bay Wine­grow­ers deputy chair­man Xan Hard­ing said while mer­lot and syrah crops were in the process of be­ing picked, the re­gion’s caber­net sau­vi­gnon grapes were ‘‘look­ing fan­tas­tic’’ but still needed a few weeks to fully ripen on the vines.

Grow­ers would be hop­ing next week’s wet spell would be short-lived so that could hap­pen.

In Mart­in­bor­ough, Ata Rangi wine­maker He­len Masters ex­pected to be busy har­vest­ing her grapes over the week­end ahead of the fore­cast rain, but she said some blocks of the re­gion’s pinot noir spec­i­mens still needed more ripen­ing.

Wine­mak­ers avoid pick­ing in the wet be­cause of the in­creased risk of grape-split­ting, fun­gus and dis­ease, but they are also wary of leav­ing fruit on the vine for too long.

New Zealand Wine­grow­ers chief ex­ec­u­tive Philip Gre­gan said the weather con­sid­er­a­tions would be top of mind in Marl­bor­ough, where har­vest­ing of the coun­try’s largest grape va­ri­etal – sau­vi­gnon blanc – was due to get un­der­way over the next week.

McDon­ald said this year’s con­di­tions would cre­ate more of a chal­lenge for lo­cal winer­ies.

‘‘It’s been a while since we’ve been put through our paces like this. We [wine­mak­ers] get to earn our keep this year.’’

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