Monday, 12 June 2023 15:25

Vintage 2023: Central Otago

Written by  Sophie Preece

Central Otago is likely to be the only wine region in New Zealand regretting the end of La Niña’s three-year reign, says consultant viticulturist Timbo Morrison-Deaker.

“It has been three stunning and stellar vintages back-to-back. While our friends on the east coast have been a little bit battered and bruised, we’ve had the benefits of a remarkably hot and dry three years.”

Those fortunes changed dramatically in the last four weeks of Central’s 2023 harvest, around the time it was revealed that El Niño was on its way in, says the owner of Viticultura, describing the “bombshell” of rain, wind, snow, and frost that hit the region in autumn, akin to typical spring conditions. “It was a rapid reminder of what Central Otago frost fighting feels like, because we’ve had a holiday from that for about three years.”

Good yields – thanks to bigger berries rather than more bunches – have presented positives and negatives, with a “blockbuster” vintage financially, but the likelihood of lower alcohol wines from later ripening areas. Colour stability and flavour profiles are “quite impressive”, but the season also delivered low sugars, high malic acids and “slightly strange pH”, he says. That came as a surprise, given the region recorded 150 growing degree days above the long-term average in the middle of the season and was “so incredibly dry”, Timbo says. Some vineyards that have never had frost issues found their canopies rapidly senescing after the cold snap, possibly due to drought stress earlier in the season. “But we have been close enough to the finishing line all season that this year will still be seen as a stellar vintage … I don’t think anyone will be complaining about volumes out of Central Otago.”

As they prepare for the 2024 El Niño vintage, growers are making sure the vines “go to bed with good nutrition and wake up the next season with good nutrition”, Timbo says, reflecting on the region’s last El Niño season in 2020 which was an “outstanding” one. “But we will expect lower crop rates than we have had and probably later harvest dates.”

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