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Thoughts on the 2012 N.Z. Vintage

By February 5, 2012No Comments

Now is the time that the New Zealand wine industry focusses on the oncoming harvest. Growers and producers should be down the path of organising their resources and manpower for this crucial period. It is still too early to make predictions on the quality of the wines. Indeed, such judgements are best made well after the wines have been bottled, given time to settle down, and show some development. It is said that the best judgements on a vintage are made several years afterward! The growing season can still be affected by the weather conditions at the end and at harvest time. But as we approach the end of summer, the style of the wines based on heat summation to date can begin to be assessed. How well flowering occurred will also be able to be accounted, and this can provide indicators of quantity.

New Zealand has the advantage of diversity and a large spread of distance between the northernmost and most southerly growing regions, and while one area can enjoy a very successful harvest, others will have a poor vintage. Even within regions, some vineyards will be seriously affected by weather events, while others are unscathed. I believe that wines will display a general vintage character, and will range within the parameters of that character. Occasionally, because of exceptional circumstances, because of vineyard site, picking and winemaking decisions, or even just plain old luck, there will be wines that sit well beyond the norm.

So far, generally, an unsettled spring period, wetter and cooler than usual, with a highly variable start of summer has seen an extended flowering period which has had an effect on certain varieties in most districts. Fruit set shows ‘hen and chicken’ with loose bunches in many areas, and the likely outcome will be lower yields. In Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are reported to be down, and Pinot Noir was the variety most affected in the Wairarapa. It is reported that the Sauvignon Blanc crop will be significantly lower, this being a ‘double-edged sword’ – many will find there will no longer be a surplus of stock, which while is a boon for some, others will find it difficult to maintain supplies for growing markets.  Of course, I’ve heard where everything has been very good and untroubled so far, as well. 

Many growing regions have experienced wildly variable weather conditions, such as extreme heat one day to snow the next in Central Otago, and flooding in Nelson. There has much foliage growth with the combination of warmth and rain, and the potential of disease such as mildew and botrytis is high. Interestingly, those who are entering or consolidating their organic or biodynamic regimes are especially vigilant, while those who are well-established seem very confident.  Most growers are engaged in extensive canopy management to allay any unfavourable outcomes. It is a tense time for the industry. The more experienced campaigners will no doubt feel a little more confident, but even they will be very alert of conditions as the vintage growing season unfolds. I wish the growers and producers well for 2012. There’s plenty of work ahead for all concerned.  I’ll post updates as I hear more.

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