Three vintage challenges

The 2017 vintage is still very much “work in progress” but might easily be described as “challenging”. When 237 mm of rain fell on my North Shore house on March 7 to 13 I worried about the grape harvest, which in Auckland at least, was probably at its most vulnerable. Excessive rain certainly concerned grape growers in the North of the North Island while the more southerly regions faced other challenges. Vintage 2017 is a reminder, if indeed we need reminding, that weather conditions vary considerably from region to region.

Hawke’s Bay

Jason Stent of Paritua Vineyard & Winery (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

The Met Service website records that after a long period of hot, dry weather, Hastings received 94.6 mm of rain between February 16 and 19, and a further 72.6 mm on March 7 to 13.

Paritua Vineyard and Winery (tastings) winemaker, Jason Stent, picked all his white grapes before the latest bout of rain. He admits that they were picked under pressure and that the sugars were lower than usual, but says that the grape seeds were brown and crunchy (indicating phenolic ripeness) and the flavours were good. March rains were about normal and although merlot is “in the danger zone right now” other reds are in fine shape and will be left until they ripen fully. “Fingers crossed” he added.

Paritua has a very sophisticated sorting table, which is capable of digitally mapping each grape and rejecting any that are green or rotten, an invaluable aid if wet weather continues.

Marlborough

John Forrest of Forrest Estate (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

Blenheim has been fairly dry apart from four “rain events” on March 7 and March 11 to 13, which totalled a relatively modest 38.6 mm.

John Forrest, the owner of Forrest Wines (tastings), isn’t at all concerned about rain.

“We got through the last rain with perfectly clean fruit.”

He is more worried about variability in fruit ripeness, which is almost a virtue in sauvignon blanc but enough of a problem in other varieties to convince him not to release any wines under his flagship John Forrest Collection label from the 2017 vintage, and that’s before he’s picked a grape.

“Flowering took a month and extended veraison causing ripeness variation in most varieties. It’s the worst I’ve seen.”

The vintage is running 7 to 10 days late according to Forrest, and could be slightly down in quantity.

Central Otago

Phil Handford of Grasshopper Rock (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

Alexandra received 9.2 mm of rain on February 13, 5.6mm on March 7 and 15.4 mm on March 12 and 13.

Grasshopper Rock (tastings) general manager, Phil Handford, pointed out that cool conditions during the rainfall meant that there was no disease pressure. In fact, he pointed out that the cool-ish vintage during flowering had reduced his crop levels by as much as 20% and meant that the projected harvest date towards the end of April would likely be a week later than usual. Handford was optimistic that, barring any serious weather event such as early frosts he expected the quality to be really good – similar to the wines from 2007 and 2010, both cooler than normal vintages.

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