A bumper wine season is predicted for Central Otago.
It has been helped by heavy rain across the district since new year, which, thus far, has been good news for vineyards.
However, winemakers’ gains due to the rain are in stark contrast to the pain of huge losses in fruit — particularly cherries — felt by the region’s orchardists.
Central Otago Winegrowers Association general manager Glenn Schuitman said the association was ‘‘quietly optimistic’’ for the harvest.
‘‘As one of our member winemakers says regularly to me — ask us in a few years, once the wine has already been in the bottle for a while.’’
‘‘There may be some concerns regarding how many workers remain in the region for [grape] harvest, but because every vineyard operates differently, only time can tell.
‘‘Ultimately, all of us in Central Otago are in this together, and collaboration is the key.’’
Contract-management company Viticultura Central Otago’s operations manager Timbo Deaker said the heavy rain had been well timed.
If the rain had come either three weeks earlier, during flowering, or in three weeks’ time when the berries softened, it would have been disastrous for vineyards.
Vines will have slightly bigger berries but they will cluster tightly together, so there is the chance of fungal infections like botrytis.
While Mr Deaker felt sorry for cherry growers, the company had a ‘‘plethora’’ of job applications from orchard staff.
Many of those workers will soon return to university, which means growers will have to be inventive for staffing for harvest in March and April.
Covid restrictions also mean far fewer Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers available and he will find out in a few weeks how many of the 2000 allowed to enter the country in the coming months the company can employ.
‘‘We usually require up to 120 seasonal workers and we have three full-time staff working every day trying to future-proof what our harvest will look like with minimal numbers of South Pacific workers.
‘‘We are expecting the season to be quite bullish long term, and quite dry with La Nina.
‘‘I will be very nervous putting nets on and off as it will be the first time we have not had South Pacific workers helping with that.’’
The increased demand for pinot noir, chardonnay and rose this year has meant suppliers are struggling to keep up, Mr Deaker said.
‘‘Not to make light of Covid, it has been generous to the wine industry, as more people tended to stay at home with a good pinot noir.’’
Grape Vision manager James Dicey extended his sympathies to the cherry growers and made a plea for workers to stay around for the grapes.
He said at this stage the rain was too early to cause damage to the vines, but could potentially increase the yield.
‘‘Berry cell division is occurring at the moment and berries can increase in size quite dramatically.’’
The vines are also growing, which means growers are busy managing that growth by wire lifting, leaf plucking and trimming.
The larger yield will mean thinning the bunches.
‘‘Knowing the exact amount to take off is going to be challenging.’’
Grasshopper Rock’s manager director, Phil Handford, said he would be in Alexandra next week for a crop assessment.
‘‘We might be on target or slightly below.
‘‘The weather has been all over the place and we were frost fighting on December 28.’’
Boutique Bannockburn winery Desert Heart’s managing director, Denny Downie, said although the rain had delayed adding the roof to their cellar door extension, she was optimistic the grapes would be fine.
Wanaka’s Maude Wines coowner Dan Dineen said the rain did not worry them too much at the moment as the grapes had yet to soften.
‘‘The ground is dry, so could do with a good soaking.’’
He said he would start to be concerned about staffing closer to harvest.
Last year, they used unemployed restaurant workers.