I was recently reminded of an old Chinese saying ‘may you live in interesting times’. Some people have thought of this as a blessing and others a curse, but, whichever way you look at the saying, today we certainly are living in interesting times.
I generally write this column at least a week prior to publication so comments in recent columns about buying from local food businesses that are setting themselves up for delivery options very quickly became redundant once the country went into Covid-19 lockdown.
One thing I am very confident won’t change between now and the day this is published is the quality of the 2020 wine grape harvest. It’s shaping up to be one of the very best in many years.
While I haven’t been able to visit a few wineries and taste the fresh grape juice as the fruit is pressed winemakers I trust implicitly are delighted with the quality of the fruit they have been harvesting, and yes, they are able to harvest during the lockdown because when grapes are ripe they need to be picked.
Wine is also one of the country’s largest export earning products, and we will need every export dollar we can get in years to come, so it makes sense for the industry to be able to harvest this stunning crop. Labour is very limited so there will be more machine harvesting, less hand harvesting and some incredibly long hours worked by a small band of people.
A winemaker told me they feel incredibly privileged to be able to harvest and process their crop during the early stages of lockdown and that they have put a wide range of safety measures in place; even though they are able to work winemakers are as concerned as you and me about Covid-19.
Valley Neale from Brightwater Vineyards told me they hand-harvested their pinot noir and chardonnay without any contract labour, just her and her husband Gary, their son, viticulturist and winemaker so “we had a few very long, hard days but the effort was worth it because the fruit was in beautiful condition and we know we this will make some great wines this year.”
Vintage at Neudorf wound up on Monday and Rosie Finn told me “This vintage is notable for the fantastic commitment of the crew. Everyone has been reliable, consistent and kept their (and our) spirits up. Todd, our winemaker and Stef, our viticulturalist have been incredible leaders in such difficult times. Fruit wise, 2020 looks great, we’ve been blessed with the weather right through summer and early autumn.”
One winery facing some significant logistical issues is Seifried Estate, they have a number of vineyards and are by the region’s largest wine producer so managing not just the harvesting but also the processing has been a real challenge but, once again, the fruit they have harvested promises to deliver some outstanding wines this year.
Winemaker Heidi Seifried told me “Harvest is all go. We are very pleased with how fruit is coming in. Delighted to report beautiful clean fruit again this year thanks to the dry summer ripening period and run into vintage. Flavours are well balanced with clean bright acids, especially from the Waimea plains vineyards.
“We had a slow growing season to start with but things have motored along the last few week in particular with sugars rising fast and we have seen a bottleneck of fruit ready to harvest all at once. It is another early and very condensed vintage!”
At Blackenbrook Vineyards Daniel Schwarzenbach is one very happy man. “We harvested the last of our fruit at 2pm on the day before Lockdown so we were able to keep our workers onsite until we finished. We don’t have a cellar hand this year but our 16 year old son, Thomas, has stepped up to fill the role beautifully.
“He has worked around the vineyard and winery almost his whole life so he knows how everything works and what needs to be done, he even worked with me in the winery until 2am a couple of days and was up again at 7am and straight back in to it. We have had some huge days.
“The quality of the fruit we have harvested is right up with the very best we have ever had, we got everything picked before the rain started so the benefits of the long, hot summer show in the pristine fruit. It was so clean, without any rot or other disease pressure, we could just pick it and process it, it made for easy and fast work for our pickers.
“We are just really happy with how vintage has gone and with the fruit we have, the biggest challenge for the whole industry is going to be selling the beautiful wines we are making this year.”
I am also delighted that as the wine industry is considered an essential business during the lockdown, they can still sell wine online and have it delivered it to your door by couriers who have appropriate distance-keeping separation protocols in place.
Like every business local wineries will need your help to survive and thrive into the future so if you need to top up your wine stocks over the next few weeks think about having it delivered to your door by a local winery that employs local people. Just go to their websites and choose your favourite drop, most wineries have free delivery options too.
To find a list of local wineries go to www.winenelson.co.nz
A final word from me; please follow the lockdown restrictions even if you feel well. Feeling well and staying well is the whole purpose of the lockdown, there are many highly vulnerable people in our community and even if we are feeling well we have an obligation to make sure others are safe too so please do your bit, give up the mountain bike for a few weeks, stay close to home if you need to go for a walk to get some fresh air and live within your bubble.
It is a trying time for everyone and we are in this together with the rest of the world so, most of all, please stay safe and be kind to one another.
Published in the Nelson Mail 01.04.20