Saturday, 10 June 2023 14:25

Vintage 2023: A wet and wetter Wairarapa

Written by  Sophie Preece
Ata Rangi Head Winemaker Helen Masters. Ata Rangi Head Winemaker Helen Masters.

Wairarapa has a wet winter, spring, summer and autumn, says Ata Rangi Head Winemaker Helen Masters.

"We have never seen a season like this ever. You have seasons where there's rain like '04 and cool seasons like '12 and '17. But the thing about this season that made it quite difficult is that it was wet all the way through."

According to VineFacts, October was the only month where rainfall was not significantly higher than a typical year in the Wairarapa. "So, it was very, very hard for the vines in terms of very different conditions to what they would normally be under. And also very cool," Helen says. That led to a protracted veraison of three to four weeks, with disease pressure starting very early, partly due to retained junk in bunches from damp conditions at cap fall.

What would have normally been positive - reasonable set and compact bunches - exacerbated disease pressure in the wet season. "Tight bunches limiting spray penetration and a lack of wind to dry vines, resulted in burst berries particularly in early varieties after Cyclone Gabrielle."

Meanwhile a "huge" amount of growth in and below the vines required vigilant canopy maintenance and weekly mowing, while at some points of the season it was simply too wet to get tractors on to the blocks to get the necessary work done. "All in all, it has been incredibly trying," Helen says, noting the additional work required to remove rot in the vines, meaning there was little downtime throughout the growing season and harvest

The season put "incredible pressure" on organic vineyard in particular, and Helen predicts some operators will drop certification following the third tough season in a row. The vintage was very expensive, from the vineyard to the sorting table, but will yield disappointing returns, with volumes well down because of disease pressure, she says. With 2023 marking the third consecutive low yielding season, a lot of people are hurting. "It is tough in terms of not having wine to sell."

Wairarapa has long leaned on a range of clones to get through seasonal vagaries, and in 2023 the later ripening Pinot Noir clones, Abel and 10/5, fared better than the Clone 5 and Dijon clones. The best Pinot Noir will be "very elegant and lower in alcohol", Helen says. "Very fresh - isn't that what we want these days?" Meanwhile "amazing" Chardonnay quality is providing a silver lining amid all the clouds.

If the forecase El Niño changes weather fortunes for the next vintage, bringing dry conditions, the region has "incredibly good carbohydrate stores set down", Helen says. "We have grown more under vine crops than ever before, and the canopies have better internode lengths than we have seen before... The vines are looking great, so if we do have a change in season things are really well set up, in terms of stored resources in the vines."

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