Winemakers facing weather challenge
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.’’