Wed, Apr 20, 2022 3:43 PM

Testing times challenge vintage, but people power pulls through



Anna-Marie Barnes

The Marlborough wine region continues to thrive and deliver high volumes of premium quality fruit in the face of a challenging season.

Growers and vintners have faced pressure for the entire season, not only from the Covid-19 pandemic but also because of the current La Niña climate patterns.

This placed the industry under significant stress for the entire growing season, starting with the Delta outbreak in early spring, then Omicron arriving close on its heels over the busy summer pre-harvest period and into harvest itself.

Marlborough Grape Growers Cooperative chairperson and grower director Ben McLauchlan says the extra layer of complexity presented by Covid-19 has  had an impact on those who work in the industry.

“Our own vineyard only has a small area that is hand harvested and this was completed by a team of RSE workers – the remainder of the crop has been machine harvested by a Kiwi crew”.

Ben emphasises the importance of teamwork and that it’s the hard work of the vineyard crews on the ground which has ensured the environmental impacts of the season have been overcome, resulting in quality fruit at harvest.

Provision of additional labour through contracted harvest companies has made successful completion of the harvest possible.

“The people make such a difference,” Ben says.

“Getting our export wine to market is also difficult as the supply chain faces its own global challenges – but our reputation for quality and the strength of the New Zealand brand wraps around and the consumer demand for our product is still high.”

Ben says the Marlborough Grape Growers Cooperative is fortunate to have strong business relationships with its wineries and it is these professional connections that leave the group in a very positive position going forward.

He believes the industry will now take a collective breath inwards and reflect on how this momentum can be maintained, but he says it is clear that working together is critical and grower groups like the Marlborough cooperative are at the forefront.

As a third generation landowner the longevity of Ben’s business and passing the property on to the next generation is of utmost importance.

“Keeping this sustainable and emphasising the consumer experience is critical”.

Over in Nelson-Tasman, winemaker Chris Seifried of Seifried Estate in Appleby echoes this sentiment.

“We do feel that we’ve walked a tightrope – and survived.

“We were quite nervous earlier in the season, especially with the rain in February causing issues with botrytis in the vineyard.  We are very pleased with the season overall, with varieties such as chardonnay performing exceptionally well.

“The warm late summer temperatures played their part, extending right into March and April, where we were still harvesting in temperatures of 26 degrees.”

With Covid-19 meaning fewer international workers on the scene, Chris says Seifried Estate has relied more heavily on a smaller crew of local workers this season.

Many of the vineyard team moved on to working in the winery once picking had finished and this has resulted in people upskilling or even working in a completely new area.

Chris says workers enjoyed the change of scenery and are looking forward to repeating the experience next season.

He says they had to ask the question, “how can we do this with a smaller staff?

“In hindsight it has worked really well, thanks to our wonderful locals.”

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