Wednesday, 14 June 2023 15:25

Wet season dampens spirits

Written by  Joelle Thomson
Helen Masters. Helen Masters.

Organic winemakers in the Wairarapa had their spirits dampened by rain this season, but organics remains the way of the future for many producers.

Ata Rangi is committed to organics on its 25 hectares of certified vineyard. But Head Winemaker Helen Masters says it hasn't been easy in recent years, with a series of wet growing seasons culminating in the "extreme" disease pressure and "devastating losses" of vintage 2023.

That's caused organic growers to "pause and reflect" on whether they can sustainably farm organically, Helen says. "The wet conditions have made undervine and intervine sward management difficult and expensive, with more passes through the vineyards with machinery as growth has continued throughout the whole season." Those who remain committed organic viticulture will be relying on a return to El Niño weather patterns, Helen says.

Organic certification has been the status quo at Urlar in Gladstone since the vineyard was established in 2007 by Angus and Davina Thomson. The new owners at Urlar have since converted another 5.5ha to organic viticulture, says winemaker Jannine Rickards, noting that more land may be considered for conversion.

On Giant's Shoulders Winemakers Wilco Lam and Sam Rouse have been very happy with this year's vintage. "The last two years have been more of a challenge than in previous years," Wilco says. "But we have been really happy this year with being in organics because we could harvest 100% organic fruit this year from the different vineyards we farm at On Giant's Shoulders, John Porter's vineyard and a vineyard we bought on New York Street."

Organic certification is a condition of winemaking for Wilco, who says working for a European-based company means everything the winemaking team does has organics in mind. "It's a no brainer for them and it's normal practice in Europe."

It's also normal practice for Big Sky Wines, which has been certified organic since 2021. The Te Muna Valley winery is owned by Katherine Jacobs and Jeremy Corban, who did not have to change their practices significantly. "The main thing about organics in the vineyard is in changing your attitude towards the way a healthy vineyard looks," Katherine says. "The wind is a challenge, but is also positive because it blows away the fungal spores from botrytis. I think Martinborough is very suitable for organics because it is very low cropping for Pinot Noir. It's a very hands-on approach in the vineyard but for us it's a holistic approach for our own health as we believe we're making better wine out of healthy vines."

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