Winegrowers optimistic after tough season

Central Otago Winegrowers president James Dicey is confident this season’s harvest will be a good...
Central Otago Winegrowers president James Dicey is confident this season’s harvest will be a good one. Photo: Lynda van Kempen

Central Otago viticulturalists had to ‘‘sweat blood'' to get the quality and yields from their vineyards this season, Rebecca Fox learns.

It has been the toughest season in living memory for Central Otago viticulturist James Dicey.

Yet he is "very enthusiastic'' about the potential of this season's harvest. "Yes, the quality is there. We just had to work harder to achieve it.''

The 2016 grape harvest has finished with high-quality fruit picked across the country, New Zealand winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan says.

In Otago, 9177 tones, 2.1% of New Zealand's total harvest, was picked, a rise of 3% on last season. In Central Otago, the driest summer in 56 years put extra pressure on growers.

Mr Dicey, who is also the president of Central Otago Winegrowers, said the disease pressure on growers this season was the toughest in his memory.

"We had to work blood and the viticulturists sweated blood to provide the winemakers with the product.''

While viticulturists further north experience far worse, the levels of botrytis in Central Otago were higher than they were accustomed to.

"For Central Otago it was a tough year.''

Those viticulturists who kept on top of the disease had done very well. "Grapevines can handle a mild degree of stress.''

In the New Zealand context the region's yield was good, as was the quality.

"While I'm always reticent about saying it's the vintage of the century, I'm cautiously optimistic.''

The future was also looking good for Central Otago winegrowers with demand for the area's pinot noir increasing overseas and locally.

An indicator of that was the increasing price for uncontested fruit as well as the increasing price for land capable of growing the pinot noir variety.

"We'll see a few more hectares being planted, which is a really encouraging and positive sign for the local industry.''

It was now becoming sustainable economically long-term for growers to produce grapes in that way, he said.

Mr Gregan said in the past year there was continued strong demand in New Zealand's key export markets, which exacerbated supply constraints following the small 2015 harvest.

"With good weather through the summer expectations for the vintage were high.''

This year's vintage of 436,000 tonnes of grapes was a welcome boost for markets, growers and wineries. The 2016 harvest is up 34% on the small 2015 crop, but is still below the record-breaking 2014 vintage.

"New Zealand wine exports are now valued at $1.56 billion, up 13% in the past year,'' Mr Gregan said.

The rebound in production will be another boost to the export ambitions of our sector.

"The 2016 vintage will definitely keep us on track to achieve our goal of $2 billion of wine exports by 2020.''

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