Grape harvesting starts at Quartz Reef

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The harvest of Central Otago’s 2021 wine vintage is under way.

Sparkling varieties of grape are first off the vines and still varieties are tipped to be harvested around the autumn equinox later this month.

At the 30ha Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate in Bendigo, pinot noir and chardonnay grapes are being harvested .

Winemaker Rudi Bauer said lessons learned from last year’s harvest had proved useful as this year’s began.

The challenges of getting the crop picked were still there in terms of labour, but Central Otago had learned a lot, Mr Bauer said.

‘‘This year we are able to complete the harvest under easier conditions than last year in lockdown.’’

The wine industry as a whole had pulled together under those conditions and he believed that collegial spirit would translate into a sharing of the labour pool.

‘‘We as a region always have the availability to work together — last season was an example.’’

The difference in harvest times across the region also created a mobile workforce, he said.

A dearth of backpackers was eased by the arrival of Central Otago’s allocation of recognised seasonal employer, or RSE, workers on Sunday.

The Quartz Reef vineyard was carved off the historic Bendigo Station in 1996, making it one of Central Otago’s pioneer vineyards and a leader in sparkling wines.

Mr Bauer said the vineyard’s north facing aspect typically made it one of the first in Central Otago to harvest, up to two weeks ahead of other wineries in the region.

The Bendigo area was one the most prolific producers and up to a quarter of Central Otago wines originated from its slopes above Lake Dunstan and the Clutha River, he said.

The key to sparkling wines was to pick when grapes had lower sugar levels, measured according to the ‘‘Brix’’ scale.

‘‘Put it this way, for every 100 litres of unfermented wine there is 20kg of Brix — that is pure sugar which the yeast then ferments from,’’ he said.

‘‘The yeast then converts the sugar into alcohol.’’

That was followed by bottle fermentation, a process that took up to two years, he said.

The harvest for still wines would begin next week at Quartz Reef, but typically occurred around March 20 (autumn equinox) for the entire region.