The small, intense berries of Marlborough’s 2019 Pinot Noir vintage were a blessing for some and a blow for others.
Looking back on the past 10 vintages, they have come in all shapes and sizes, with various challenges and curve balls sent our way. I am sure the next 10 vintages will tell a similar story.
One thing is certain - they don’t seem to be getting any easier. Vintage brings out a unique set of challenges, with the pressure on to get the grapes harvested and processed as quickly and efficiently as possible, to capture the maximum potential of the season. Harvest and winery crews can be stretched to breaking point, both physically and mentally, as the pressure comes on.
Of course, vineyard operators have already been working through their busy growing season. With increased pressure from the likes of powdery mildew and a more variable weather pattern, it does seem that there is a requirement to do more rather than less for both mechanical and manual vineyard operations. This means more tractor passes and increased labour costs, as well as working around the variable weather patterns.
Similarly, our cellar doors have (hopefully) been inundated with visitors seeking a wine experience as part of their summer holidays. For many wineries, this a key source of income and we all know the best way to get a customer for life is to give them a unique experience that they will remember forever.
In reality, if you are not busy these days it is more than likely you have just forgotten to do something. I am sure there used to be a quiet period each year to enable a catch up, but these days this just doesn’t seem to happen. But the old adage of ‘harden up and just get the job done’ doesn’t cut it anymore. Maybe we got away with it when we all had a good length of time to recover after a busy period, but these days it is easy to jump from the frying pan into the fire.
We need to make sure we are looking after our people, and look for any signs that cracks are starting to appear. Make sure your staff are in good health and have support when the pressure comes on, and remember that they will need time to recover after working hard. More and more we need to be conscious of the ‘people’ pillar of sustainability, and we must look after their well-being.
One of the great strengths of the wine sector has always been the sense of camaraderie - we enjoy each other’s company and we like to hang out together and help each other out. Let’s continue to learn from each other and share ways to relieve the pressure points, while we continue to make great wine.
This edition of Winegrower Magazine introduces a Wellness in Wine series, dedicated to ensuring our people thrive in this industry, despite the busy times. That’s something to keep in mind as the 2020 harvest approaches. Best wishes for the vintage of the decade.
• New Zealand Winegrowers board member Clive Jones is winemaker and winery manager for Nautilus Estate.