Grey skies and green hills are common sights around vineyards this December, a stark contrast to last year when Wairarapa was in drought. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

HAYLEY GASTMEIER

hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

Summer holidays in Wairarapa usually means golden landscapes but the current lush green paddocks are the result of relentless rainy days and wineries may feel the pinch if it doesn’t dry up soon.

This time last year, central Wairarapa was declared being in severe drought.

Just 17mm of rain fell in Gladstone in December 2017.

But this month the grape growing area has already been hit with more than eight times that amount, with 142mm of rainfall, according to a private weather station.

Metservice says Masterton this December has had a total rainfall of 120mm, compared to 49mm the same time last year, and 38mm in 2016.

And Featherston underwent severe flooding earlier this month with a rare weather bomb.

So what does all this rain mean for grape growers?

Larry McKenna, of Escarpment Vineyard in Martinborough, said it meant more work and less visitors, but when it came to the fruit it was nothing to worry about just yet.

“It’s had no impact yet. We’re very comfortable with it, we need the rain.”

He said it was vital for vine growth at this time of year.

“We’ll just have to work a bit harder as they’re growing a bit more, there will be a bit more canopy management because of the weather.”

McKenna said as long as the weather dried up from February onwards, the fruit would be undamaged.

Angus Thomson, of Urlar Vineyard in Gladstone, said rain and sun were the two crucial ingredients for growth.

He said the excess rain meant the vines were growing well, and even though the sunshine had been less frequent it had still been warm.

However, the damp and humid conditions did increase the chance of disease.

But this could be managed with good practices.

“Disease pressure is higher than usual, but it is looking pretty good at the moment.

“They key really is that it dries up in the next week or so and it turns into summer.”

The biggest challenge was getting on to the vineyards with machinery, Thomson said.

“It’s probably as wet now as it is in the middle of winter.”

Martinborough’s Ata Rangi head winemaker Helen Masters said because the fruit was only in the early stages of ripening, it was not being impacted by wet weather.

She said the vine growth usually started to slow down at this time of year.

“But because there’s so much moisture in the soil they’re fairly robust still. The fruit is okay, however it’s costing us more in terms of work in the vineyard.”

Masters said she had her fingers crossed for dryer and “more settled” weather for January, February and especially, March, when harvesting would begin.

“And lower humidity is what we’re aiming for.”

Alastair Scott, of Matahiwi Vineyard in Masterton, said so long as wineries were on top of their “spraying”, there should not be any issues.

“It all depends on how well you’re looking after your vineyard … last year people got behind on their sprays, and once you get powdery mildew, it’s really hard to get rid of.

“The trick is prevention.”