Tuesday, 20 February 2024 16:25

Seasonal Update: The outlook for Vintage 2024

Written by  Sophie Preece
Seifried Estate Seifried Estate

Surprisingly awesome, says James Dicey when asked about the Central Otago outlook for Vintage 2024.

“We were expecting an El Niño year After the last three La Niñas, but it’s been another hot, incredibly dry summer with an amazing flowering and set.” Yields look at or above average, and vineyards hit by the highly unusual October frost event have recovered, although there is variability across the region, James says.

Watchouts include powdery mildew, which is at normal levels, and water stress, given there has been no “meaningful” rain this growing season. “It is very, very dry at the moment,” James says on 22 January. “People have their fingers crossed for 20mm plus, and ideally within the next week, so the cherry guys have a great end to the season and we have the drop of rain we need for the balance of the year.” There’s a commonly held view that Central Otago winegrowing can be inconsistent or vulnerable, James adds. “But the past four years have been outstanding as far as ripening and fruit quality is concerned. With slightly lower yields and decent fruit canopy, as long as we can manage the water risk, I think we are looking at a pretty stellar crop.”

North Canterbury

It’s a return to a classic El Niño summer for us,” says Greystone Viticulturist Mike Saunders of dry golden hills and lush green vines in North Canterbury. “Things are tracking really well now.” The season began with a frost, but Mike says it was on the lighter side, and many vines “bounced back” well. Cool flowering meant lower berry numbers, but a leap up in heat intensity from Christmas onwards has supercharged growing degree days, and canopies are looking really good, he says on 23 January. The heat of a “kinder summer”, paired with irrigation, means berry size is up,” so we should still see moderate yields.

Nelson

“On the whole we’re very happy with how everything is looking at this stage,” says Chris Seifried of Seifried Estate on 22 January. “I think a lighter vintage is good for everyone, isn’t it?” Crop levels are down in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer, with spots of damage from an October frost event, while Sauvignon Blanc, largely unscathed, looks to be sitting closer to a normal yield. The Nelson season is early, with Seifried’s nets going on a week to 10 days sooner than typical. Meanwhile, disease pressure has been “reasonably low”, with the company keeping up to date with spray rotations and canopy management, says Chris, pleased with the vintage outlook.

Marlborough

Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc harvest looks 15% to 25% lighter than 2023 crop levels, says Babich Wines Marlborough Area Viticultural Manager David Bullivant, in the midst of pre-veraison forecasts. The lighter loads may help the industry “reset” after two large vintages in a row, he adds. “Stocks of wine are fairly flush, with possibly some overflow to this year. The general feeling is we wanted a season that was average or below average.”

Spring weather was “a mixed bag”, including below average temperatures that possibly affected flowering. The temperatures also slowed the season down, and before Christmas the Babich crew predicted a harvest around a week later than typical. However, January brought a run of very dry, warm weather, “and it’s catching up quickly”, David says, predicting that most Sauvignon Blanc will be harvested the last week of March, “which is probably quite normal”.

The dry summer means vineyards with access to irrigation are thriving, without pressure from moisture and humidity. “People with a good spray programme should have no disease around at his point, bearing in mind there are eight weeks to go,” David says on 22 January. At that point rain had fuelled the headwaters often enough to refresh rivers and keep irrigation going. But water is an ongoing concern, especially for those without reserves. “As much as we have invested in dams, we still have two vineyards out of out eight that don’t have them, and we are watching river levels closely.”

In the Awatere Valley, Yealands Senior Winemaker Anthony Walkenhorst says crops are on the “lighter side” there as well. “Everyone will do their final counts and work out how much room they have in the wineries. But it probably means that we don’t need to clear the wineries out nearly as much as we have in the last couple of years.” He says the past three years have thrown up plenty of challenges. “Going into this one we have had a pretty good run with the weather so far, so disease pressure is down. It’s potentially looking like a really good quality year with slightly lower yields and very good weather.”

Wairarapa

“It feels like this is how it should be,” says Ata Rangi Winemaker Helen Masters, as the Wairarapa enjoys a dry summer in lieu of the deluges endured in 2022 and 2023. “After the last couple of years it seems a lot more straight forward, and a lot easier to hit targets, without continuing rain. The grass is drying, we are stopping mowing; things are happening as they should.” Crop levels are down due to cool weather during flowering and the “hangover” of an October frost event, which has left some shoots with no fruit, Helen says on 22 January. “But 2021 wasn’t a high yield and ‘21 wines are very good. Sometimes you can’t have it all.” It also means there’s little need for crop thinning, with canopies naturally open, she adds. “So everyone is feeling fairly positive.”

Hawke's Bay

Brent Linn, Executive Officer of Hawke’s Bay Wines and owner of Wairiki Wines, says unsettled weather patterns resulted in a protracted flowering. “However, the varietal diversity and number of subregions with different flowering periods mitigated some of this risk. Typically the earlier flowering varieties and regions fared better than the latter.” Crop levels appear to be slightly back on normal levels, Brent says. Vine growth has been excellent, thanks to “smatterings” of rain, along with warm temperatures from mid-December, with full canopy achieved earlier than normal. “Mowing, trimming and leaf plucking have kept the vit teams busy keeping on top of growth.” The past few wet vintages mean the teams have proactive disease management programmes in place and have kept ahead of pressure, he adds. “January has seen a return of Hawke’s Bay summers of old, with high temperatures and sunshine hours pushing growing degree days well ahead of the curve, Brent adds. “We are seeing mixed reports on potential harvest dates, with warmer subregions forecasting a continuing trend of earlier vintages, while cooler regions are indicating they may be stepping back from that trend. All will be revealed in April.”

Sacred Hill Winemaker Nick Picone says with humid January weather, wine companies need to be vigilant about spray schedules. “If you missed a window, you would be in trouble pretty quickly, I think.” That’s a challenge, “but to be honest everything looks good after last season”, he says. When Cyclone Gabrielle slammed the province last year, Sacred Hill had to ford the Tutaekuri River to get its grapes to the winery, with no bridge to cross following flood damage. Nick is about to blend a Wine Thief Chardonnay from that escapade, “and I probably couldn’t be happier with it really, given everything that went down”.

Auckland

In Auckland, a wet winter was followed by changeable spring weather, affecting the flowering of various varieties and sites differently. “Some flowered well and some not so good,” says Michael Brajkovich of Kumeu River Wines, noting that some Chardonnay flowered through a week of wet weather, reducing potential yields. Speaking on 22 January, as a long stint of dry weather continues, Michael says crop loads will be variable, and harvest is likely to be later than the past few vintages. “Probably back towards where we were normally, years ago. But we’ll wait and see.” Last year Kumeu River harvested for sparkling base around 9 February, “and I think we’ll be a week or two on from that. El Niño if it arrives will be very welcome.”

More like this

Vintage 2024: Central Otago

With a late frost last year, a hailstorm in February, and frost fighting in March, some subregions of Central Otago have been kept on their toes this season.

Vintage 2024: On the High Wire

Greystone's High Wire project is set to expand across 25% of the North Canterbury vineyard, allowing sheep to graze those blocks year round.

Vintage 2024: North Canterbury

"Conditions are incredible," and "the quality is going to be exceptional", says Mike Saunders from North Canterbury in mid-March, as harvest kicked off for many.

Vintage 2024: Nelson

"It's one of the best vintages, I think," says Chris Seifried on day one of Seifried Estate's Nelson harvest. "I'm really excited about it."

Vintage 2024: Marlborough

"I'm just kind of pinching myself that the weather is so good," says Pernod Ricard's New Zealand Group Winemaker Jamie Marfell, as he approaches what will likely be his first Easter off in 34 years.

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