Saturday, 08 June 2024 14:25

Vintage 2024

Written by  Sophie Preece
Hand harvest for Bilancia at Roy’s Hill, overlooking the Gimblett Gravels. Photo Richard Brimer. Hand harvest for Bilancia at Roy’s Hill, overlooking the Gimblett Gravels. Photo Richard Brimer.

New Zealand's total harvest will be well down on 2023, with many wine regions reporting lower yields due to poor flowering, drought-like conditions, and in some cases late spring frost damage.

But the warm, dry summer enjoyed throughout the country, paired with cool autumn nights, has winemakers excited about the quality of the season. "2024 will produce some truly memorable wines," says Craggy Range National Vineyward Manager Jonathan Hamlet.

Kumeu River experienced a 30% drop in yields in their Auckland vineyards, and 50% down at Rays Road in Hawke's Bay. But the quality is "really, really good", says Cellar Master Nigel Tibbits. There was little sorting required in the dry and disease-free season, and the tiny berries and small bunches at Rays Road promise "amazing" Pinot Noir, with ripe cherry and bramble flavours. Kumeu did better in terms of yields, while still offering clean fruit in a spectrum of ripeness. “From the Estate Chardonnay point of view it’s a great blending opportunity,” Nigel says, talking of “really neat acid” to balance out the ripest fruit.

Jonathan says Hawke’s Bay had a fantastic season, with a “normal” summer proving a relief after last year’s cyclone hammered harvest. A cooler and wetter period through flowering impacted on fruit set, reducing yields, but the summer carried consistent warm weather and low humidity, back to more typical westerly flows and belowaverage rainfall. Temperatures dropped off in mid-February, with cooler days and cold nights providing early autumnal conditions for harvest. That lengthened the ripening period and – combined with lower yields – delivered a “beautiful intensity and ripeness”, says Jonathan, who delighted in the opportunity to pick at the perfect time, unhurried by disease or rain. “The season has set up some incredibly exciting wines.” Final yields were varietal dependent, with clones like Mendoza more vulnerable to poor flowering. But other clones, along with vines on heavier soils, still have reasonable yields, he says. The reds are 20-30% down, with a lot of smaller berries with higher skin to juice ratio, “which is amazing for quality”.

In the Wairarapa, a combination of lighter yields, dry warm days, low disease pressure and strong diurnal shifts resulted in “spectacular” wines across all varietals, Jonathan says, calling it the strongest year he has seen in a long time. “We’re very excited about the wines down there as well.” There was frost pressure in spring, “which seems to be a bit run of the course in the last three or four years”, followed by an average flowering, which impacted Pinot Noir more than the later white varieties. That meant a lower fruit set in Pinot Noir, and smaller bunch weights and berries, which is good news for quality, “but it would have been nice to have a bit more crop”. The region had drought-like conditions that required careful irrigation management, then a very cool harvest, with frost machines running at times. But apart from wishing for a little more Pinot, he couldn’t be happier. “It was an awesome growing season, and everybody appreciated having less disease pressure.”

Geoff Wright from Wrights Vineyard & Winery in Gisborne says it was a stressfree harvest compared to the past few wet years, with the ability to leave grapes out to develop maturity and flavours, rather than respond to disease and weather pressure. But with yields around 50% down, Gisborne growers are facing an upward battle, with fixed costs of production and far less in the tank than they need. “Things are getting tight out there,” he says, noting that the region needs a harvest with good weather and good yields, “and consumers drinking a bit more New Zealand wine too”. Geoff believes the light crops, which impacted some varieties more than others, could in part be down to the lack of sunshine hours from the previous waterlogged season. On the bright side, he was delighted to leave their Zinfandel out on the vine as long as it needed, and to give Syrah a lengthened ripening period. “From a grower’s perspective, it was a good season for quality but with production down, it has been tough.”

Marlborough’s 2024 vintage was “a return to form for Marlborough summers”, says Astrolabe General Manager Libby Levett, describing loose bunches and minimal disease pressure. Hot, dry weather led to early ripening and a “dream vintage”, she says. David Bullivant, Marlborough Area Viticultural Manager at Babich Wines, says it was a low yielding, high quality year for the region. “For me this year will be defined by six or eight weeks without rain, and a harvest where everyone had the luxury of any time, any day to pick their grapes.” Pinot Noir is his standout variety for the year, and yields from their Waihopai Valley vineyards were “bang on”, he says. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc yields were down 20% on average for Babich, with the Awatere Valley crops a bit lower than that, and some places on the Wairau Plain doing significantly better. Quality wise, Sauvignon Blanc is “fantastic”, David says, speaking a day after tasting 100 tanks, where there were too many options for the top tier wines, and decisions had to be made about which parcels would drop down to other labels. “We’re going to overdeliver again.”

Nelson’s season was also a “beautiful” one, despite some frost damage in the region in late spring, says Abel’s Mark McGill. “It was a very dry summer with no rain, which is a grape grower’s paradise.” The ripening window was tighter, putting some pressure on picking crews, but there was no disease pressure to force harvest decisions, allowing fruit to be picked at
its best.

The North Canterbury 2024 season was a return to a “classic” weather pattern, says Steve Smith MW, co-owner of Pyramid Valley. Yields varied across the region, but quality appears “exceptional”, he adds. “A potentially truly great vintage awaits for those who managed the challenges of frost and were patient.”

Bannockburn producer Felton Road, which has been named Winery of the Year New Zealand 2024 by The Real Review, had an “exceptional” season, says Winemaker Blair Walter. “After having such a warm, dry summer we were concerned about the potential early and fast ripening, which is never really a good thing for us for Pinot Noir.” But March was the coolest it has been in 14 years, slowing flavour development and giving winegrowers the opportunity to be patient, “and carefully monitor different vineyards and different parcels”. That allowed for “a very measured and orderly harvest”, Blair says. Dry conditions throughout summer resulted in smaller berries, “and for us that means more interesting quality, when we have a more moderately yielding vintage”. Yields were nonetheless within 5-10% of normal, “so we are really pleased”.

James Dicey from Grape Vision was also impressed by Bannockburn’s performance, with an excellent fruit set that meant total volumes were good, despite berries remaining small in the dry conditions. Other parts of the region did “very well” too, and despite frost damage impacting some growers in the Cromwell Basin, Central Otago was just above its long-term production average, “so continues to produce consistently reliable quality yields”, James says. “Across the entire region there was incredibly low disease pressure, hardly a flutter of powdery in the background, virtually no botrytis,” he adds. That meant short picking days, with pristine fruit remarkably easy to pick, and a very long harvest, at a whopping nine week total, compared to the 10 back-to-back days his father Robin experienced in his time. That brought frustrating challenges in maintaining staff momentum, James adds, calling the season “excruciating” from a labour contract point of view. “It was outstanding fruit but felt like the longest vintage ever.”

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