14 Apr 2015

Winemakers thankful for early harvest

3:22 pm on 14 April 2015

Cental Otago winemakers are counting their blessings that they had an early start to this season's grape harvest in the wake of the cold snap.

Vineyard in Central Otago's Gibbston Valley

Gibbston Valley vineyard Photo: 123rf

Chief winemaker at Gibbston Valley Winery Christopher Keys said it meant they had most of the grapes picked when the snow arrived on Monday.

"The good news is we're 70 percent through harvest at this point so the majority of our pinot has been taken in from the warmer sub-regions," he said.

"It's still snowing, but that's only going to affect the later ripening areas that still have fruit hanging on to ripen, so cooler regions, Gibbston, Wanaka. Alexandra, are likely to have fruit still out there."

He added "the positive side of this is we started picking mid-March and there was flurry of activity just before Easter and the early part of April, so I'm really pleased it was an early season, because if this snowfall had happened a couple of weeks ahead of when it has, it would have been a different story."

Christopher Keys said snow on the grapevines doesn't cause any damage but if there are frosts following the snow it can affect the quality of the unpicked grapes.

"Sustained cold periods can really send a message to the vine and the vine sends that message to you, that the season's over and yellowing of the leaves happens and at that point, you've cashed your chips in really.

"What you have on the vine is what you get, so if you're at a lower sugar level than what you think is ideal, well you don't have any recourse to get any further ripening," he said.

The cold snap also brought snow and hail to Canterbury's main wine district, the Waipara Valley.

Sherwood Estate's winemaker, Petter Evans said luckily they are also well through the harvest after an early start.

"Harvesting is probably three quarters finished. Now we're through most of the varieties, the sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot."

He said "we're picking a little bit of pinot today. It will be very cold, the fruit will be becoming quite cool which is quite an advantage, just to preserve some of the flavour and health in the wine-making process."

"We don't expect to be harvesting for much longer. We'll probably finish by earlier next week. This year we've been very lucky. The fruit's been very ripe, it's had lovely flavours. Yields are down, but correspondingly, the flavour and time of ripening, the time of harvest is a little bit earlier than normal, so we're probably running about two weeks ahead of normal."

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs