19 Mar 2010

Northland drought pays off for winegrowers

4:11 pm on 19 March 2010

The drought that is making life difficult for farmers and orchardists in Northland is delighting those in the region's wine industry.

They say it has resulted in brilliant fruit quality, a drop in mould and fungus problems and an overall excellent vintage.

Northland was officially declared in drought in early January, and since then, stock feed supplies have been tight. The avocado and kiwifruit industries in particular are reporting smaller fruit and stressed plants. Some of those issues have arisen for grape-growers but have not been a cause for complaint.

Okahu Estate owner and founder Monty Knight says that while the grapes are smaller, they've ripened for much longer than normal, leaving the flavours to develop in intensity.

However, he says, the vines are stressed by lack of water, and crops may be lighter next year.

Marlborough season running late

In the biggest winegrowing region, the 2010 vintage is running a week behind, with most vineyards expected to start picking in the last week of March.

Marlborough winegrowers say this is due to cooler conditions during the flowering period late last year.

Dr Mike Trought of Plant and Food Research in Marlborough says flowering is normally finished in the region by 20 December, but last year it was still happening between Christmas and New Year, so fruiting was delayed.

There are also indications that volumes are down for the sauvignon blanc variety, thanks to industry efforts to limit the amount of wine released to the market. Lower yields are also expected for pinot noir.