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Distinctive terrain .. The Waitaki Valley's limestone terrain can produce exceptional wines, but the long growing season has its difficulties. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

Waitaki Valley vineyards are awaiting this year’s harvest.

It would be remembered as a difficult one thanks to the weather, Waitaki Valley Wine Growers Association chairman Andrew Ballantyne said.

The valley was traditionally the last region in New Zealand to pick its grapes. Its long growing season combined with its limestone and alluvial-greywacke bases meant it was an exciting place to be a wine producer, but it also had risks such as being exposed to more weather events, he said.

The unusually wet spring was followed by a cool summer and wet, cool autumn. Those conditions were not conducive to ripening the fruit.

The challenge now was to keep botrytis at bay while the grapes matured.

The main harvest throughout the valley was due to start around May 1, Mr Ballantyne said. That would be a fortnight later than last year.

The grape types to be picked were pinot noir, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, pinot gris and riesling – usually in that order. The riesling grapes were likely to be two to three weeks after the pinot noir, depending on the style of riesling the producer wanted.

Ostler Wines Ltd managing director Jim Jerram said his plantings had “a range of ripeness and effects from the rain that has caused so much damage to vineyards in regions further north”.

“There was much less rain here from Tropical Cyclone Cook and, as fruit is still some way off from full ripeness for table wine, it has remained in pretty good condition.”

The season was “very late” this year, Dr Jerram said.

His team would start to pick some “bubble base” this week, but the bulk of the harvest was at least a week away.

Yields in the Waitaki Valley were expected to be below previous years because of the weather, Dr Jerram said.

Getting enough staff for the harvest was not likely to be a problem, Mr Ballantyne said.

A mix of locals, backpackers and seasonal workers from Central Otago would pick the grapes, and “everyone just mucks in and helps each other out when needed”.

The vineyards to be picked were Black Stilt, Bobbing Creek, EarthKeepers, Forrest Estate, Ostler, Pasquale-Kurow Estate, Q Wine, River-T Estate, Sublime and Valli.

Kurow Estate was the only one with its own wine-making operation on site. Grapes from the other vineyards were sent to places including Alexandra, Waipara, and Marlborough to be processed.