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Almost all the 170 vineyards represented by the Central Otago Winegrowers Association have started picking their grapes, but this year the pickers have had to abide by Alert Level 4 restrictions.
Maude Wines winemakers Dan and Sarah-Kate Dineen, of Wanaka, said it had made the harvest a more expensive and sombre affair.
‘‘Usually, it is a time to celebrate — we feed our crew well and they all dine together — but we have to change all that because of social distancing,’’ Mr Dineen said.
This year, the pickers had to travel in their own bubbles to the vineyard, operate in pods while they worked and strict protocols and procedures were introduced concerning the handling of buckets.
Maori Point vineyard co-owner John Harris said the Tarras vineyard decided early on to hire unemployed tourist operators such as climbers and mountain guides living in Hawea, as well as friends and relatives, to pick their grapes.
‘‘We are very happy with it because it has given us total control over who is here and their backgrounds, and we are not having to worry about people coming from overseas.’’
The rows of grapes were the right distance for social distancing and people were not allowed to work next to each other except if they were partners.
Although he was feeling nervous about the future as demand from restaurants was now non-existent, he was optimistic about the quality of the 2020 vintage, Mr Dineen said.
‘‘It has been a long, slow growing season, so the flavours have come in quite early and the colours are lovely — it is actually a really, really good year.’’