A warm, dry autumn has been the saving grace for winegrowers in the Waitaki this season.
Harvest was in full swing in the Waitaki Valley this week, and it had been an ‘‘atypical’’ season for the region, new Waitaki Valley Winegrowers Association chairman Dave Sutton said.
‘‘It’s been more of a La Nina rain pattern this year, which has meant a lot of easterly rainfall, so a lot of the winegrowing regions on the East Coast — for example Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Waiheke Island — they’ve seen a lot more rainfall.
‘‘Things were looking a little bit grim, but we’ve had a beautiful ripening period, late, and it’s actually saved the vintage, I think.
‘‘The fruit that we’re picking looks great. It’s really exciting.’’
Mr Sutton is winemaker and general manager of Te Kano, which purchased the Pasquale Kurow Winery just before the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
The processing plant was used last year for the estate’s Bannockburn and Northburn grapes, and this year the Kurow vineyard was also being harvested.
The Kurow chardonnay and pinot noir were picked last week, while the aromatic whites — pinot gris and riesling — were being harvested this week.
‘‘Basically it’s just all hands on deck,’’ Mr Sutton said.
The biggest challenge this year had been staffing.
Border restrictions meant a limited number of ‘‘backpacker-type workers’’, and the staff they did have had been hit heavily by the current Omicron outbreak.
‘‘A lot of our staff come from Central Otago, and about 60-70% of the available harvest staff had Covid at one point or another. It really posed a lot of challenges. When you’re down to 30% of your workforce, you just do what you can to get through.’’
The Waitaki winegrowers were a supportive bunch, Mr Sutton said.
‘‘It’s a very small group of dedicated winegrowers. There’s a lot of sharing of knowledge, and sharing of equipment and just sharing in general. It’s a real community here, which is really nice.’’
The Te Kano Waitaki grapes were most likely destined for single vineyard wines, he said.
‘‘So we’ve got a kind of estate blend, which is a representation of everything we do, in a bottle — so a real snapshot of the year — and we have single vineyard wines which are trying to showcase a unique piece of land.
‘‘So we’ve got a Northburn, Bannockburn and a Waitaki pinot noir and chardonnay, and it’s really great actually, you can taste all three — same season, same variety — and they’re all completely different. You know, you’re really tasting the soil.
‘‘It’s something that all industries are dealing with. The main thing is just to stay positive and do your best, which is what we’ve been doing,’’ he said.
Paul and Alisa Nicholls, who bought River-T Wines in January last year, completed their harvest on Monday, with the riesling grapes.
Pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris were picked last week.
They had faced the same issues as Te Kano, trying to find enough crew for the harvest, and described the year as a ‘‘bit of a rollercoaster’’.
‘‘It’s been difficult, because we have to run the Cellar Door as well,’’ Mr Nicholls said.
‘‘So during this month [April], it’s the busiest time, with Anzac weekend and with Easter, so trying to find staff has definitely been an issue, but we did a Facebook plea, and got some good workers through that, and then we’ll stick with them.
‘‘Once they know what they’re doing, it’s dead easy, and we get quite a good crew built up over the harvest.’’
Family and friends had also helped out a lot, he said.
The yield from the grapes had surprised them.
‘‘After the season we’ve had weather-wise, like.
‘‘It’s been a really, damp wet season, but actually somehow we’ve got through it pretty good, and we’re getting some decent quality grapes at the end of it.’’
Pinot noir was the first pick, and the stand-out, he said.
‘‘It really did look top quality. So we’re happy with that.’’
Mrs Nicholls said it was a relief to have survived their first full season, ‘‘knowing we haven’t completely screwed things up’’.
They had kept the same winemakers, Jen Parr and Grant Taylor from Valli Wine, and were grateful to still have them on board.