WINE SAVED: Waimea Estates general manager Ben Bolitho inspects a vat of 2014 pinot noir at the winery last week. Harvesting was completed just before last week’s big storm.

Wineries celebrate ‘stellar vintage’

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Nelson wineries are looking forward to another “stellar vintage” after finishing harvesting this month, but it was a  close call with growers just missing the wet weather that ruined tonnes of grapes in Marlborough.

Chairman of the Nelson Winegrowers Association Richard Flatman, says the quality of this year’s grapes is exceptional after vineyards experienced perfect growing conditions throughout the season. But Richard, who is the viticulturalist at Neudorf Vineyards, concedes Nelson growers were lucky they were able to start harvesting early and beat the rain that inundated the country in April.

“We had 247 millimetres of rain at Neudorf from April 8 to April 20 and that’s when we would normally be a week into picking. We were just lucky we had that wonderful Indian Summer and were about two weeks early.

“It looks like it’s going to be a stellar vintage. We had ripe fruit with nice flavours and no disease, and quite a large crop.”

Waimea Estates general manager Ben Bolitho says they faced a race against time to keep up with ripening grapes, harvesting and processing around the clock in the final 10 days. Ben says Waimea Estates was also fortunate they had installed some new processing and refrigeration equipment for this season, because that allowed them to finish the harvest before the rain.

“Our biggest day this season was 225 tonnes and before that it had been 150 tonnes, so we would have struggled to beat the rain without the new gear.

“Everything we picked was ripe and ready for harvest.”

Ben says Waimea Estates harvested 2400 tonnes, up from last season’s 1700 tonne and similar to the quantity harvested in 2011. However, Richard says Marlborough “got really slammed” by the rain because they had experienced cooler weather and were harvesting later than Nelson. The prolonged rain caused grapes to swell, losing flavour and intensity and then split, making them prone to disease and rotting. Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens says the rain hit the later part of the vintage although it was “too early to say” how that impacted on the harvest. He says there have been “a few distressing tales of some growers”, especially in the later-ripening regions of Marlborough. However, Marcus says growers and winemakers are still optimistic about the vintage because of the quality of grapes harvested before the rain.