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Approximately $200 million worth of damage was incurred by wineries in the Marlborough region, including 60 million litres of tank capacity. The big question then and leading into the vintage was; will that damage be rectified in time for vintage, in New Zealand’s largest wine region?
New Zealand Winegrower’s CEO Philip Gregan says a pre-vintage survey of wineries provided comfort that the region would be able to cope. In fact the survey showed wineries were hoping to increase the yield from 2016, to cater for strong export growth. The expectation from the survey was that wineries were looking at a vintage of around 450,000 tonnes. Due to the earthquake, many wineries had exported wine in bulk to ensure they had the space for vintage this year.
However, the predictions did not come to fruition. In fact, the vintage this year was down 9 percent on 2016, and came in nationally at around 396,000 tonnes compared with 436,000 tonnes last year.
“If there was ever a reminder that we grow grapes in a cool and maritime climate (with the exception of Central Otago) we got that reminder this year,” Gregan said. “Clearly there were some challenges for growers and wineries.”
Those challenges involved weather. While leading into March the conditions had been extremely favourable, the effect of two cyclones, Debbie and Cook placed pressure on growers and wineries. While Gregan was quick to add that winemakers throughout the country are positive about the quality of the fruit they harvested, they were not so positive about the amount of fruit that was either dropped to the ground or left unharvested.
Not surprisingly, it was Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that was hit hard. In terms of harvest, the total tonnage was down six percent across the country, and five percent down in Marlborough. That played an integral part in the overall yield decline. But in terms of varieties and regions, it wasn’t the largest decline. Waipara suffered the most in terms of regions, with a 30 percent decline in yields. Riesling and Pinot Noir were the varieties most affected in those regions. (Riesling down over 60 percent, and Pinot Noir down 25 percent).
Every region in the country saw declines over last year (which was a record), with the exception of Gisborne who saw a slight increase in yields.
So what did we harvest this year? Sauvignon Blanc made up 75 percent of the 2017 vintage, Pinot Noir 8 percent, Chardonnay 7 percent.
Yields were down on last year, with an average tonnes per hectare coming in at 10.8. In 2016, yields were over 12 tonnes per hectare.
For the first time NZW asked wineries and growers this year how much fruit was left on vines unharvested. This did not take into account how much fruit was dropped due to disease pressure or thinning, only what was left behind.
“Both of the surveys came back with the number of 4000 tonnes unharvested. I think that is probably an under estimate,” Gregan said.
So with the growth of exports over the previous 12 months, what does a lower than hoped for vintage mean for New Zealand wine?
“The simple implication is the supply, demand balance over the year ahead is going to be tight.