Word on grapevine: everything just fine

Estate Vineyard Management worker Robyn Sim displays clusters of young fruit at Grasshopper Rock...
Estate Vineyard Management worker Robyn Sim displays clusters of young fruit at Grasshopper Rock’s Earnscleugh vineyard. PHOTO: TRACIE BARRETT
Fine weather over Christmas and New Year has been a boon for Central Otago vineyard managers, both in terms of disease management and projected staff numbers for the coming harvest.

Heavy rains at the beginning of last year put an early end to the season’s cherry harvest and led to an exodus of seasonal workers, leaving some vineyards struggling to find staff for netting and harvest a few months later.

Central Otago Winegrowers Association general manager Jake Tipler said staffing issues had not been a problem this season, with all vineyards reportedly on top of their growth.

"This could change as we shift into the harvest period however, - it’s critical for us that the cherry and stone fruit pickers stay in the region for the grape harvest in March/April," he explained.

Rainfall had been below average which meant disease pressure was relatively low and the vines were very healthy going into the ripening phase of development, he said.

Viticultura co-owner Timbo Deaker said unsettled weather in early December affected some vines which were in the flowering and fruit set stage, while others in areas such as Bannockburn flowered earlier so were not affected.

"It will be a very interesting year for the winemakers of Central Otago because clime by clime, vineyard by vineyard, the fruit will be unique."

Mr Deaker said the company, which employed about 45 workers from Vanuatu and 15 to 20 New Zealanders, had all its work done on time, and was able to loan out some staff to the cherry industry.

Estate Vineyard Management owner Chad Douglas also shared his Ni-Vanuatu workers with cherry orchardists while his locally hired workers continued with canopy management on vineyards in Tarras, Bendigo, Bannockburn, Cromwell and Alexandra.

The recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers would return to the vineyards in early February, in time to put up nets to prevent ripening fruit from birds.

The harvest was looking to be a week or so ahead of schedule, but that could be slowed by cooler weather.

Mr Tipler, of the winegrowers association, said that, ideally, the weather would remain warm and dry for the remainder of the season, allowing the grapes to ripen without disease or excessive plumping and leading to a bumper crop in both quality and quantity.


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