Monday, 10 April 2023 14:25

Problem solving through a harrowing harvest

Written by  Sophie Preece
In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo Credit: Richard Briner In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo Credit: Richard Briner

Indevin was on the cusp of its Gisborne vintage when Cyclone Gabrielle stormed through, cutting communications, inundating vineyards, and blowing harvest-as-usual out of the water.

Three days later, still in the dark about the impact on people, winery and growers, Chief Executive Duncan McFarlane and Director of Operations Richard Gardner were on the first available plane in, carrying meat, milk and cash, along with a Starlink Kit to get communications back in gear.

A similar care package was taken into Hawke's Bay, while the company ascertained that everyone was accounted for, then assessed the damage. Neither the Hawke's Bay winery nor the Gisborne one was hit by flooding, but with power and access cut in the former and water supply cut to the latter, they had to rally resources. In Gisborne that saw Indevin work with produce grower LeaderBrand, which gave it access to water through one of its sites, so Indevin could tanker it to the winery.

With the winery then "good to go", they worked through their grape supply challenges, finding some blocks barely impacted and others hit very hard, with the brunt of the impact on inaccessible wet vineyards unable to carry a harvester. "So there have been some losses of crops, both at the grower level and company level," Duncan says.

They have spent the period since the flooding working trhough a harvest plan, in order to take what they can from their grower base in order of priority, based on fruit condition, and subject to access. "For most properties we have been able to do that and there are a small number where we haven't," he says. "And there is still a lot of very good quality fruit, so it's not all bad news," he adds. "In these natural disasters the pain is never spread pro rata across everybody."

In Hawke's Bay, the company's supply is less impacted, although still severe in some select cases, including a 100-hectare Indevin vineyard at Pakowhai "with full crop loss". The flood waters rose close to the top of wind machines on that block, and left a layer of silt up to 40cm deep along the vines. The actual vineyard is still standing, but with machinery damage and silt removal there's a massive job ahead.

Duncan says they made the call on that block rapidly, and focussed on the harvest plan elsewhere, including with the small number of growers badly affected by the floods, and others with parts of their vineyard physically destroyed or fruit flooded, as well as those with access issues. Speaking on 9 March, half way through the Gisborne harvest, and quarter way through in Hawke's Bay, they continue to work "collaboratively" with suppliers to "try and optimise the outcome for all concerned", says Duncan.

He's proud of the team's ability to think outside the square in order to resolve so many different issues as well and as swiftly as they could. While there are some very bad outcomes, "overall it will turn out not being as bad as it could have been", he says. And, with industrial satellite systems now installed at both wineries, along with backup power and the Starlinks stored for emergencies, he's hopeful they're better prepared for the future.

The priority in both regions remains wellbeing "and that includes our growers", he adds, noting that some of the pain will surface down the track, when the adrenaline and problem-solving energies fade. Indevin has put in place a long-term plan with that in mind, "ensuring our people and partners are well and stay that way, or can get help if required".

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