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New Zealand 2001 Harvest - Progress Report
23 March 2001 (updated 1 April 2001)
© Sue Courtney

Map of NZ Wine Regions, copyright Sue CourtneyNew Zealand is a long narrow country and grape vines are grown from Kaitaia in the north of the North Island close to the 35th parallel, to the South Island's Central Otago where some vineyards are south of the 45th parallel. Consequently the harvest dates and weather patterns vary greatly from one region to another.

While the South Island regions have been experiencing a long hot and dry summer with the Marlborough region is in the midst of a record drought, the northern regions have had their share of rain. Vineyards in Auckland and further north experienced 14 days of unrelenting humidity that forced an early harvest for some growers. Gisborne, in particular, had one of their earliest harvests on record as the pickers were put to work in the mid to latter stages of February.

I've been talking to a number of wineries the last couple of days and here is my summary of the progress of Harvest 2001 to date, from North to South.

Matakana: Peter Vegar of Matakana Estate, about 45 minutes north of Auckand City, said that picking started in earnest at the beginning of March with the harvest of the Pinot Gris. Matakana Vineyards nearing harvest - 24Mar2001 Yields are low firstly due to poor weather at fruit set and secondly to the vine management, which meant any problematic fruit was cut off the vines before harvest. The Semillon has also now been harvested with selective picks of the Merlot, which is looking good, during the week. It will be a busy weekend at the Matakana Estate Winery.

Marion Ransom of Ransom Wines reports that the regular pattern of cloudy weather has been frustrating. "It's been cloudy here even when it is fine in Auckland", she said. No fruit has been harvested yet and they may commence next week. The Chardonnay is later than normal and the crop will be drastically reduced due to later flowering and dropped bunches. The Pinot Gris, however, is looking good. The Ransom's later ripening, loose-berried Pinot Gris clone withstands the humidity well. The red crop is also looking good however yields are down.

Auckland: Simon Beck reported that Matua Valley harvested the Auckland Chardonnay & Pinot Noir on the 28th February, due mainly to pressure on these varieties because of the humid weather conditions rather than optimal fruit maturity. The Semillon & Cabernet Sauvignon are looking excellent and benefiting from this hotter drier end to the summer. The Sauvignon Blanc which was harvested on Tuesday, "looks okay with good flavours", he said.

Jaison Kerr of Kerr Farm Vineyard in Kumeu has been experimenting with a new spray, Trichoderma (TRI-D25) that 'eats' botrytis. "The spray seems to have worked on our Chardonnay", says Wendy Kerr, who estimates they will commence vintage in the first week of April or shortly thereafter, depending if the fine weather holds out. "Our grapes are in great condition following all this lovely warm, dry weather", she said.

Gisborne: Simon Beck of Matua Valley said that poor fruit set due to a cold spring has meant lower crop yields overall. "This has been a blessing in disguise", he said, "as the overcast wet days experienced with the easterly weather patterns over the growing season has meant a difficult year. Extensive leaf pucking & the low yields have meant our crops are reasonable with some good early flavours."

Earlier, Justin Papesch of Lincoln Wines reported that the harvest in Gisborne was one of the earliest ever, with harvesting going flat out in several vineyards in the week prior to 25th February. Many growers were experienceing problems due to the extreme humidty experienced that month, he said. Lincoln commenced harvest in Gisborne in early March.

Hawkes Bay: Matua Valley was fairly badly affected by the November frosts and report that they probably lost about 60 tonne of fruit. With the loss to frost and the otherwise cool weather which affected flowering, there will be a below average crop volume. The reds, particularly the Merlots, are looking excellent with Brix at 20, already.

Nicholas Buck of Te Mata Estate reported that their vintage commenced on Monday 19th March with the harvest of the Chardonnay on the Woodthorpe Terraces and then at Te Mata on Wednesday. Te Mata came through the November frosts reasonably well and are about 10% down on yields, with Merlot and Syrah the most affected varieties.

Martinborough: Richard Riddiford from Palliser Estate reports they started picking the sparkling base wine grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the week commencing 19th March and the main harvest will start the first week of April. "The fruit at this point is in excellent condition and we are looking forward to a great vintage", he says. "Pinot noir is looking superb in quality and in volume terms above our long term average. From a volume perspective this will be the best harvest since 1996. Chardonnay is also above the long term average with Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling slightly below long term average. Forgetting volume and returning to quality we are excited with the superb fruit and expect outstanding wines from the 2001 vintage. Time will tell but growing conditions have been pretty much ideal."

Marlborough: Matua Valley report that they are ready for the main harvest still 4 - 5 weeks away, drought conditions prevalent of course causing again below average crops in volume but fruit finally starting to fill out, and all vines are looking healthy.

Cloudy Bay started picking for the Pelorus sparkling base wines on 13th March and the fruit looks excellent. On 20th March they estimated the harvest of the Sauvignon Blanc would commence about the 31st March however on 1st April, Kevin Judd e-mailed wineoftheweek.com with this update.
"We are currently in the thick of it ... harvesting around 150 tonnes of fruit per day with harvesting happening around the clock (which means all day and all night). The fruit looks and tastes excellent and we are flat out as almost all varieties are coming ripe at once. Crop levels look to be average ... which is perfect. Chardonnay is nearly all in and we now have over half of the Sauvignon Blanc off ... we start harvesting Pinot Noir tomorrow (2nd April). The 2001 vintage is very early and condensed and we'll be pretty much finished by Easter." he said.

Brian Bicknell of Seresin Estate reports that with the low rainfall aligned with high sunshine hours and average temperatures this has got to be the best build-up to vintage that he has ever seen. He speaks of the follow-on effect of the bad weather in November 1999 which affected flowering and crop levels for 2000 and how that has has continued to effect crop levels in 2001, so yields are down. The Seresin harvest commenced on March 13th with Pinot Meunier for the sparking base and as we e-mailed on Tuesday (20/03), the Chardonnay for the bubbly was also on its way into the winery.

Canterbury: The Canterbury region is a little way off harvest for the main varieties although grapes for the base sparkling wines has been harvested.

Daniel Schuster of Schuster Wines and the Waipara Winegrowers Association says that Vintage 2001 is shaping up to be one of excellent quality (on par with '98) and above average volume. The Canterbury harvest is expected to start in early April, he says, and carry on through to early May.

Pegasus Bay Winery reports that with the dry weather and good mid-summer heat the fruit is ripening well with the Pinot Noir having attained 20 Brix this week. Their harvest will commence at Easter, with Pinot Noir the first crop to come off the vines, followed by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Semillon and lastly Cabernet Sauvignon. Their crops are low this year, averaging about 1 tonne per acre.

Central Otago: Sunday 18th March saw the harvest of the regions first grapes of the vintage. Grapes that will contribute to the Quartz Reef Methode Champenoise Noir were harvested from the Twin Sisters Vineyard in Lowburn on Sunday 18th March (some pictures are available on the news page of www.otagowine.com).

Blair Walter of Felton Road Wines reports that they are currently about 3-4 weeks away from harvest with a start date looking like April 14. They have no 1st or 2nd crop vines which usually ripen earlier. Pinot Noir is the first grape harvested with the Chardonnay coming in shortly after or as in 1999 at the same time. Riesling is usually 1 to 3 weeks after the Pinot.

Blair summarises the season thus, "We started the season after a wet winter and spring with high soil moisture levels. As a consequence soil temperatures took longer to rise and initial vine growth was slower than normal (a relative term for us - 1997-2000 being our basis for comparison!). We then had very warm and stable weather through early December up until Xmas for our best flowering and fruit set we have seen - a very fast and even flowering, which results in more even within bunch ripening." he said.
"Late December and early January was cooler with some rain and since then we have received very little rainfall with February and March being rather dry. We have not had the consistent super hot central Otago days that we can get throughout February and March which is quite similar to 2000 but with less summer rainfall. We didn't irrigate at all for the 2000 vintage and so far this season most of our vines have received no irrigation. So far the vintage is looking rather similar to 2000 which is somewhat exciting as I think 2000 may have produced the most interesting Pinots to date. They are being bottled as I type, for release mid-May."

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Thank you to everyone for your exclusive reports for wineoftheweek.com.

Update 31 May 2001: Now available End of Vintage Report


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