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No whining from resilient growers

Despite unprecedented challenges with this year’s harvest, Wairarapa winegrowers are generally positive about the result, while noting that flexibility and embracing the elements were central to its ultimate success.

The season started off in late August with beautiful grape-growing weather but things started to turn in the early new year, with the arrival of Cyclone Gabrielle.

Phil McArthur from Moy Hall in Martinborough said this was one of the toughest vintages on record.

“Talking to the old guys, they’ve never seen anything like it,” McArthur said.

“We sort of took that on board and we had to change our viticultural style pretty rapidly during the season.”

He said flexibility and being on their game was key.

“You can’t just stick to the vineyard program, you gotta adjust as you go. We’re pretty lucky we got away with it this year.”

McArthur said the climate is likely shifting from an easterly, wet La Nina phase to a drier, warmer El Nino phase next year, which will be more conducive to grape growing in the Wairarapa region.

Wilco Lam, wine grower at On Giants’ Shoulders in Martinborough, said Cyclone Gabrielle was a something of tipping point in people’s mental approach to the vintage, but ultimately, they were happy with the wine.

“It’s not the best of the best vintages really, but I think everybody could have guessed that in New Zealand,” Lam said.

“We see a lot of the strength and quality in the wines that we are looking for.”

A lot of the quality, he said, came from the work that went into growing the berries earlier in the season.

Lam said the rain means we can expect lighter bodied wines for this year, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“In the past few years, we’ve had quite intense heat and the wine started to get quite rich. So having the pendulum swing the other way is probably quite nice.”

Lam also noted certain consumers may actively prefer the lighter bodied wines.

For Nicky Geary, wine grower from Le Gra in Masterton, the year was a challenge – but with that came opportunity.

“We’ve done a few trials this year, just to play around and see what we can do differently. We decided that it wasn’t going to be an incredible vintage, so we thought, ‘right, let’s play around’,” Geary said.

This means that the Le Gra 2023 offerings will include diverse wines such as a wild ferment Pinot Noir, an orange Pinot Gris, a Pinot Port, and
an Amarone style Merlot.

Poppy Hammond, the co-owner and wine grower at Poppies in Martinborough, said the crazy harvest was a lot of fun.

“We loved it. Amazing for white wines, just not the greatest for red wines.”

Hammond said wine growers are always set up for the weather to take a turn for the worst at harvest.

“I mean, it’s challenging but I guess you get to do your craft. It’s easy for everyone to make beautiful wines in a beautiful easy year. The years like this are what really define it,” she said.

“They always laugh at me because I like a bit of rain for harvest as well. It’s a really unscientific reason – it’s because it washes the dust off the grapes.”

Jannine Rickards – winegrower at Urlar in Gladstone and Wairarapa Winegrowers Association chair – said the year has just been about adapting and diversifying the wine.

“I think you’ve got to work with Mother Nature. Embrace the season, read it, and just be super onto it in the vineyard.”

Rickards said the year has been fun because it’s been interesting and different, especially seeing how certain varieties hold up with the conditions.

“It’s incredibly impressive how resilient grapes can be – to be honest, after this year, I’m very impressed.”

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