Tuesday, 14 February 2023 15:25

Altogether Unique: Nelson

Written by  Sophie Preece
Blackenbrook Vineyard Blackenbrook Vineyard

Nelson grape growers escaped the rain pressure faced by many wine regions in the first few weeks of the new year.

And while warmth and humidity have been a challenge in terms of disease pressure, “I am not seeing anything of significance, touch wood,” Neudorf Winemaker Todd Stevens says on 19 January. “So far so good.”

At his vineyards in the Upper Moutere, flowering was moderate. “Certainly not a massive crop and it wasn’t a shocker either.” There’s some variability in some blocks, impacted by inclement weather over flowering, but on the whole it’s a solid fruit set, he says. A line up of warm sunny days in mid-January are set to continue, “and we will take all those credits and bank them”.

Down on Nelson’s plains, Neil McCliskie of Alandale Orchards, says despite some concerns about wet and changeable weather around flowering, fruit set in his Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc blocks has been surprisingly good, with “fabulous berry numbers”. His third variety, Pinot Noir, is more disappointing, but plant health across the board is very good, says Neil. “Canopy growth has been strong, so things look really, really well at the moment.”

When it comes to labour, Nelson is not back to pre-Covid levels, “but it’s certainly better than last year”, Todd says. “Obviously now that borders are a little bit freer, we haven’t struggled as much for labour, but it’s still not easy.” Wine is competing with hop producers, orchardists and other industries for the limited resource. However, by paying a little more and offering onsite accommodation, they’re managing to meet the market. “If you’re willing to be flexible, they’re there”, but companies that stick to the “old ways”, including the minimum wage, “might be struggling”.

Nelson has been part of the New Zealand wine story for a long time, as “something of a quiet achiever”, Todd says. It has an eclectic and broad range of varietals, which can make it hard to grasp what the region is known for. “But I suppose diversity is actually a good thing. You just need to find a way of telling that story… I like to think we’re a small, diverse interesting player that adds a bit of colour to New Zealand’s industry.”

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