As you travel around the region supporting local businesses you will have noticed netting being draped over grape vines in almost every vineyard. You may also have noticed some rows of vines are being covered before others. The reason for this is quite simple, some varieties ripen before others, so need protecting from veracious little birds that simply love the sweet nectar of ripe grapes.
If you pay attention to this activity each year you may also have noticed the netting seems to be going on a little earlier than usual, and you would be right. The fantastic warm weather has encouraged the grapes to start veraison (French for the onset of ripening and it’s when the grapes start changing colour from green) earlier this year than long term averages, in some vineyards by as much as a week to ten days early.
That, in turn, means the potential for an early grape harvest this year in some grape growing sub-regions. I asked Paul Miles, from Riwaka River Estate and Chairman of Nelson Winegrowers, how this would impact the 2022 vintage, he told me “ripening will vary around the region because of the number of micro-climates, but for us flowering conditions were very good and that has resulted in a a very good fruit set, and we have great bunch sizes. Our Pinot Noir, in particular, is romping ahead, and Chardonnay isn’t far behind.
“We’re cautiously optimistic at this stage of the season compared to last year. The NIWA medium-range forecast is for slightly below average rainfall and good temperatures.
However, he sounds a note of caution, “the real challenge facing every horticulture/viticulture business at the moment is a shortage of labour and this has the potential to be worse because of the early vintage and the Omicron outbreak.” He says a labour shortage has been forecast and the outcome will be doing more with less, he’s confident the Nelson can-do attitude will get us through. “A positive approach and helping one another will get us through.” Paul pointed to the recently launched ‘Pick Nelson Tasman 2022’ labour campaign as a way of accessing the region’s labour opportunities. “Take a look”, Paul says. “It’s a rewarding industry to be a part of”.
Tucked away in a valley off the Moutere Highway is Flaxmore Vineyards, with rolling hillsides and lots of sun co-owner Stuart Anderson told me “our vineyards are in pristine condition at the moment and about now is when we start holding our breath, hoping for a long, settled summer with as little rain as possible during harvest in about six weeks’ time.”
At Flaxmore they are running a few days earlier than last year “we’re preparing for things to move quite quickly. Flocks of starlings are hovering so that’s always a sign of ripening fruit, they’re sensing there’s fruit worth looking at.” Stuart told me their vineyards are nicely set for a long hot summer, the Moutere clay soils hold moisture well and they’re balancing applying natural cover spays to protect against rain events and putting nets on, “once nets are on it’s done and dusted for any more cover sprays.”
In Tasman where the coastal breezes arrive each afternoon you will find Blackenbrook Vineyards, co-owner Daniel Schwarzenbach says , “we are about ten days to a fortnight ahead of long-term averages, it’s the earliest veraison we have ever had and we’re a week ahead of last year which was early too.
The vineyard at Blackenbrook is in perfect condition, “we have a healthy canopy, there’s plenty of moisture in the ground, our nets went on a week earlier than normal because the birds were hitting our Gewurztraminer two weeks ago. Now they’re heading to chardonnay that will be the last of our vines to be netted this week.
“There is real concern about current rainfall, predicted to last from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday, the forecast is for a sub-tropical pattern with plenty of rain and it’s likely to hang around for a few days. We have done a comprehensive leaf pluck to open the canopy to help dry the grapes after any rain event and the grapes are still able to deal with rain without splitting, but we certainly don’t need it.
“Overall, it’s the best the vineyard has looked for a long time but there’s still six weeks until harvest, a lot can happen between now and then.”
The largest sub-region in Nelson is the open expanse of the Waimea Plains where vineyards are blessed with all day sun, warm summer breezes and free-draining soil, Seifried Estate have vineyards in most parts of the wider region so I had a chat with Hermann Seifreid to find out what’s happening on the plains were they have vineyards from Brightwater to Rabbit Island.
His story is like most others, grapes are ripening a little earlier than in recent years, “we’re pretty early but in a much better position than last year, the crop level is better after a small vintage last year. It’s quite good to have a more normal vintage again, veraison is way ahead in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in particular.
“We’ve had pretty good conditions without any water restrictions and because our vines are more established we don’t have to irrigate as much as we used to, cutting back on water also reduces vine vigour so it is easier to keep canopies open and deal with any rain events. The current forecast is variable, it’s very early days and many things can happen between now and when harvest starts, let’s wait and see what happens.”
Hermann told me that 30-40mm of rain over-night is good, the vines can handle that but 100mm over three days is more than we need. “It looks pretty exciting, but six weeks is a long time when you’re dealing with mother nature.”
Paul Miles says, cautiously, outside of wine increased fire risk “if we can hang on to this and have balanced weather conditions through to harvest it has the potential to be a great vintage. Omicron would be a disaster for anyone in the horticulture sector, “if your winery or vineyard crews need to isolate for up to 24 days that’s pretty much the entire vintage for many wineries.”
So to help ensure you get to enjoy some great wines from the 2022 wine vintage make sure you do your bit to stay safe and keep the impact from omicron as low as possible, and if you think you might like some work in the fresh air check out www.picknelsontasman.nz