Waiheke vineyards seem to have come through the heaviest week of rain in recent harvest-time history largely unscathed.
The 320mm recorded over five days from 7 to 11 March came as vulnerable early-ripening varieties were on the cusp of harvest.
Mudbrick head winemaker Patrick Newton was relieved he made the decision to bring-in all the winery’s chardonnay and pinot gris ahead of the subtropical rainmaker’s destructive downpours.
“If we had left those grapes out there they would have all been pretty diluted or riddled with disease,” Mr Newton says.
The west-island based winery suffered no significant damage on its “home” block nor to its plantings in Onetangi Valley. Warm weather and breezes since the deluge have allowed remaining varieties to dry out, with few signs of disease or splitting.
But with rain forecast for the weekend, Mr Newton is considering harvesting the company’s viognier. Red varieties, including merlot, still need another few weeks of sunny weather to ripen.
Kennedy Point Vineyard also reports that its organic vines emerged in good condition.
At the eastern end, the island’s biggest producer, Man O’ War, recorded marginally less rain but vineyard manager Matt Allen says the “grape escape” was down to good vineyard management.
“Our vineyards have held-in extremely well, with most of the credit going to our fungicide programme, canopy management throughout the year and the commitment to planting steep hillsides with extensive drainage throughout,” Mr Allen says.
Going into the rain event disease-free also helped.
“There is no doubt every vintage throws down a new challenge and this year is no different. The one thing to remember is it’s often from the most challenging of vintages that the greatest wines emerge. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
Man O’ War started harvesting on Ponui Island last week with 32 tonnes of pinot gris hitting the winery in great shape, he says. Small quantities of chardonnay for champagne and malbec for rosé were also brought in. Last weekend, picking began on about 70 tonnes of sauvignon blanc which had achieved “the perfect sugar and acid balance we were looking for”.
“40 tonnes of chardonnay will follow that before we think about our red wines and the balance of our superior clone of pinot gris, which is bullet proof and usually comes in around mid-April.”
Up at Peacock Sky, co-owner Rob Meredith says the rain left its mark on the vineyard’s steeper slopes, with run-off removing topsoil, scouring metal roads and damaging drainage. “We’ve had to dedicate some time and resources to get everything flowing back the way it’s supposed to flow,” Mr Meredith says.
The highly-concentrated downpours followed by dry weather were arguably better than having weeks of humid, drizzly weather (as happened last year with significant impacts on many vineyards).
As this edition went to press, Peacock Sky was considering bringing-in its chardonnay ahead of the expected weekend rain. “But it has to be right before we bring it in.”
Peacock Sky’s main focus is on red varietals which are several weeks away from readiness.
“Some of our early ripening varieties are tasting quite delicious. The flavours seem to be there, they just need the sugar to come up.”
“This year has certain similarities to 2012 which started wet and finished dry and we made some lovely wines that year which are developing quite nicely.” • Geoff Cumming