Cautious optimism over 2013 vintage

Rippon Vineyard assistant winemaker Brett Reddington takes a sample of the winery's 2013 gamay noir vintage. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Rippon Vineyard assistant winemaker Brett Reddington takes a sample of the winery's 2013 gamay noir vintage. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
The New Zealand Winegrowers Association says winemakers across the country are heralding the 2013 grape harvest as one of the best, but those in the Central Otago industry remain cautious.

New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said in a media release this week the New Zealand harvest had been completed and high quality grapes had been picked in all regions.

The 2013 Vintage Survey showed 345,000 tonnes of grapes were harvested nationwide, up 28% on last year's crop and 5% on 2011. Central Otago experienced a 4% increase, from 8115 tonnes in 2012 to 8407 this season.

''An outstanding New Zealand summer provided near perfect conditions for growing grapes across the country,'' Mr Gregan said.

''The result is that we expect the 2013 wines to be vibrant, fruit driven and complex expressions of our diverse grape-growing regions; 2013 looks set to be a vintage to remember.''

Central Otago Winegrowers Association president James Dicey, also a Bannockburn grape grower, was less effusive.

''In Central Otago, I think we are cautiously optimistic about the quality of what we've seen,'' Mr Dicey said.

''I'm just being cautious at the moment. I don't want to get swallowed up by my own hype.''

While the vintage was certainly looking ''very positive'', labelling it the best ever was a ''big call'', before the wine had a chance to age.

''We all, as winemakers, like to talk every single vintage up like it's the best of the century.

''The greatest vintages ever in the history of grape growing have all been done retrospectively,'' he said.

Mr Dicey believed some of the excitement over this year's vintage stemmed from other regions such as the Hawkes Bay-Gisborne area, where crops had escaped rain damage and disease after previous challenging seasons.

While spring frosts last year had Central Otago winemakers predicting yield to be down by 10% to 15%, the region had recovered well.

''For us to be up 4% is a very gratifying result for the season.''

Nick Mills, of Rippon Vineyard, agreed it was too early to make any big claims.

''Obviously, the fruit [this harvest] was exceptional ... but in terms of wine we don't really make too many assumptions ... there's a year and a-half in barrel and a year in bottle before we release our wines.

''All the signs were there for a really lovely wine ... but I can't make that call for a long ways down the track, possibly 20 years.''

Mr Gregan said the small 2012 grape crop left the industry unable to meet continuing strong consumer demand in established and new markets.

''Winemakers will welcome the more normal 2013 harvest as the better balanced supply will facilitate renewed export growth in the year ahead.''

Early wine shipments began last month, and were a ''sure sign that the thirst for New Zealand wine is set to stay'', Mr Gregan said.

New Zealand wine is exported to more than 90 countries and wine exports are valued at $1.2 billion per annum.

Central Otago has about 1600ha of vines, which average a yearly yield of 8000 tonnes, equating to about 5% of New Zealand's wine production.

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz