2018 vintage: too wet too often
It’s Thursday 8 March. Under the headline “Rain hammers Nth Island: ‘Worse than Bola’” and a photo of a vineyard underwater, the Otago Daily Times reported,
“Heavy rain has closed the Napier-Taupo road, as a severe weather warning is issued for Hawke’s Bay.
The Eastern District Police this morning said State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo would be closed for the foreseeable future due to surface flooding.”
Welcome to the 2018 vintage.
Hastings is expecting 103mm of rain today (Thursday) and is likely to receive a similar drenching tomorrow. To make matters worse Cyclone Hola is due to strike this Monday and is reputed to be potentially more damage than Cyclone Gita which struck just before mid-February. Hawke’s Bay got off lightly with Gita – rainfall for the month of February was around 30-40mm in inland sites, a little higher on the coast. Now, in just a couple of days those figures are likely to more than double.Faced with the prospect of heavy rain, winemakers and viticulturists must decide whether to harvest early before flavours have reached optimal ripeness, or to ride out the storm.
Most Marlborough vineyards received significantly more rain than those in Hawke’s Bay during the month of February. Using the Harvest website I was able to check the rain gauges of a handful of Marlborough vineyards for the month of February. Rainfall varied from 168mm to as much as 312mm. In one case a vineyard received 136mm of rain in a single day.
I could only access one Nelson weather station, which revealed a scary 286mm of rain for the month of February.
Even Central Otago had higher than normal rainfall for February with most of the weather stations I checked showing rainfall in three figures. One vineyard had a dump of 150mm in a single day. Felton Road winemaker, Blair Walter, said the region seems to have coped well with above average rainfall not causing too many problems.
Warmer than usual temperatures, particularly at night, has advanced the start of vintage by up to three weeks in Central Otago. Felton Road starting harvesting grapes at the end of February, an unheard of early start.
Excessive rain can cause dilution, splitting and rot. Faced with the prospect of heavy rain, winemakers and viticulturists must decide whether to harvest early before flavours have reached optimal ripeness, or to ride out the storm and use a man or machine selection process to reject any rotten berries.
Cyclone Bola, which struck in March 1988, is reputed to be the worst ever vintage in the past 50 years. Some vineyards in Gisborne were completely submerged. I recall one winemaker who mechanically harvested some grapes after the flood receded, telling me that he found pumpkins mixed in with his grapes. They’d floated from his neighbour’s farm.