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Job done . . . River-T Estate grape pickers (from left) Pauline Roman from Ecuador, Nele Bertling and Nicole Prieg from Germany, and Camila Angonese from Brazil are pleased with their day's work. River-T co-owner Karen Turner said the four women happened to be staying with her when lockdown was announced with eight hours' notice. "They lived with us during the last five weeks of lockdown and they became part of the River-T bubble." They were relieved to have somewhere to stay with accommodation, she said. "We think they are great, so certainly a win-win situation." PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“This could be the year of the Waitaki,” Ostler Wines managing director Jim Jerram says.

He and other Waitaki Valley vineyard owners are reporting a great crop of grapes, some of which were still being harvested this week.

“We’ve had super ripe fruit and reasonable yields,” Dr Jerram told the Oamaru Mail

“We’re really happy with it.”

Warm weather during flowering in December had been a big bonus, he said.

The Covid-19 lockdown had “raised all sorts of issues” for the harvest but Ostler “had a super team” of local employees and volunteers, Dr Jerram said. “It brought people together.”

The team worked creatively and in a “very positive” way to ensure the grapes were picked within existing bubbles to keep everyone safe, he said.

Ostler’s winemaker Jeff Sinnott has put some of the pinot noir grapes through the fermentation process.

“The first of the pinot noir batches from our limestone-based vineyard in Racecourse Rd have just finished fermentation. They look awesome – super-dense, ripe, rich and succulent.”

Bubbly . . . Al and Amanda Sorrell pick grapes within their bubble at an Ostler vineyard. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Dr Jerram said winemakers tended to be cautious about overstating condition early on, “so that’s a pretty solid indication he’s happy with the fruit this year”.

River-T Estate co-owner Karen Turner said everything but the riesling grapes had been picked at the estate.

The rieslings would be left to hang until later in May.

The harvest had gone smoothly in the “very small vineyard”, she said.

Her lockdown bubble contained six people, all of whom carried out the work.

The grapes’ quality was excellent, “because we had a superb autumn”.

The lack of rain meant botrytis had not affected the fruit, and the recent warm days had boosted its sugar content.

Mrs Turner predicted the 2020 vintage would be worth sampling.

“Locals have been very supportive in buying local wines.”

She recommended everyone “look in your backyard, don’t look overseas” for the products they wanted.

At Bobbing Creek, a picking crew arrived in New Zealand from Vanuatu before the borders were closed, but co-manager and Waitaki Valley Wine Growers Association chairman Andrew Ballantyne had been concerned by the logistics of getting them to Kurow from where they had previously worked in Central Otago.

Then he got permission from the Ministry for Primary Industries to have them stay at a camping ground. A team of eight lived within one bubble and could all work together in the vines.

“We’re doing all right; we’re coping,” he said.

The grapes were “looking lovely”.

“It should be a pretty good vintage.”

The wine would be made, but whether there would be a market to buy it after the Covid-19-caused economic recession remained to be seen, Mr Ballantyne said.