Neighbours, friends, family and friends of family – more than 20 people in all answered the call when vineyard owner Inge Diks sought help with harvesting her merlot grapes on Good Friday.

Thyme Hill Vineyard is the only one in Central Otago to grow merlot to bottle, although Central Otago Wine Association general manager Jake Tipler said some other growers may have vines they grow to test their viability.

“Merlot is a hotter climate variety that wouldn’t typically grow well here but this has been a very hot season,” Mr Tipler said.

Mrs Diks inherited the variety planted by former owner John Kelly in 1993 when she bought the vineyard 10 years ago.

“I think he just wanted to do something different.

“In the ’90s, it wasn’t really known that pinot noir was going to be the big thing for Central Otago.”

Mr Kelly chose well for the Letts Gully site.

Heading the harvest . . . Thyme Hill Vineyard owner Inge Diks looks after the tractor work while friends and neighbours help pick her grapes.

The vineyard’s main slope was high, on a north-facing slope, so was normally a couple of degrees warmer than her home on the lower side of the hill, Mrs Diks said.

Being a fairly steep slope, frosts tended to roll off the vines, saving frost-fighting time and labour.

Merlot also had greater resistance to disease.

She said its looser clusters meant botrytis was less likely and the fruit’s thicker skins made powdery mildew less likely also.

The site’s steep slope and a warm autumn day tested the pickers on Friday as they carried full buckets of fruit down from the rows to bins at the base of the block.