Grape quantity down but quality promising

Despite frosts in November, winegrowers around Otago are looking forward to a good season but say they are not out of the woods yet.

''We expected crops to be way, way down but it's not going to be as bad as we thought ... because of the November frosts we lost quite a lot of growth but the weather in December was exemplary,'' New Zealand Winegrowers chairman Steve Green said.

Because of the good December weather, ''we will get plenty of bunches'' though they may be smaller than usual, he said.

However, growers are hoping for settled and dry weather over the next couple of months, to avoid potentially devastating diseases such as botrytis, a kind of mould.

Yesterday, Quartz Reef wine maker Rudi Bauer was thinning his pinot noir crop in Bendigo which he said was a strategic move to focus the plant's growing efforts and produce the correct quality grapes, and to help protect against disease.''

It's maybe a slightly cooler season, too, but that's another reason you can adjust the amount on the vines ... it's a management tool.''

Gibbston Valley winery Chief winemaker Chris Keys said because of the cold start to summer growth was ''a little behind'' at his winery and he faced less thinning than usual.

Despite crop levels being low, the quality was not affected.''

It's a nice balance. The bunches are a nice size and pretty even in most places. The odd spot was affected by frost, but mostly the growth and grapes had been ideal.''

We're a very very happy considering what could have been. We could have lost 120 tonnes had we not done anything to [frost] fight.''

Peregrine Winery vineyard manager Nick Paulin said it was thanks to frost-fighting techniques late last year that he, too, was looking at a good season.

Rippon winemaker Nick Mills, though, said the frost had affected his crop, but he was not yet sure of the extent.''

We got a bit of a tickle up in certain flatter, more sheltered areas in the vineyard, so our yield will be down for sure. But how much I'm not sure.''

A positive sign for Rippon this season was less density in the canopy, which helped eliminate mildew and fungi.''

There's lots of air flow in there, so not a lot of stagnant air, so that's really good, from a sanitary aspect.''

In North Otago hopes are high for an ''excellent'' but reduced harvest, following wet spring weather.

Ostler Vineyards co-owner Jim Jerram said although the grape harvest was not until March or April, he hoped it would yield good-quality grapes.''

A wet spring and early summer has resulted in vigorous vine growth, so viticultural crews have their hands full training the shoots and managing the canopies.''

He said the cooler spring had resulted in a late, though excellent, fruit set. Mr Bauer said the Central Otago wine region had recently received a lot of international media attention due to an international celebration of New Zealand pinot noir, being held in Wellington from Monday to Thursday.

He said over 100 wineries from throughout the country, including about 25 from Central Otago, would be showing off about 300 wines at the event, Pinot Noir NZ 2013, which is held once every three years.

Central Otago wine
• Second largest area in terms of number of wineries - just less than Marlborough
• 1600ha of vines planted in throughout Central, producing an average of 7000-9000 tonnes of grapes per year.
• Each tonne makes about 70 cases (12 bottles each) of wine.
• Average price for a bottle of red is $32; white is $22.
• About 40% of wine is exported.
• Region's specialty: Pinot noir

First of 2012 Central vintage excellent, growers say
New Zealand Winegrowers chairman Steve Green said some of the first white wines from last season were ready.

''They are excellent. Riesling, in particular, is very good.

''Last season was quite a good season. It wasn't as big as 2011. Crop levels were not as high, but the fruit quality was good.''

Rippon winemaker Nick Mills said the year had been ''exceptional''.

He said the vineyard's barrelled 2012 wines, which were ''coming out of winter hibernation'', were looking fantastic.