Farmers in Hawke's Bay have now experienced two successive years of bad droughts, which has stretched their farm management skills to the limit. Watching this and working with farmers to mitigate the problems are two experienced AgFirst farm consultants based in Hastings - Lochie MacGillivray and Phil Tither. They talked with reporter Peter Burke about what they have seen and what works best.
Even a small rain event in the middle of vintage didn’t cause any undue pressure on the team. Meanwhile, a few of the processes and health and organisational requirements of the 2020 Covid-19 vintage were put to use, he says.
Richard says the company is quite self-sufficient with machine harvesting and didn’t have any issues with hand picking. It had a solid pre-vintage plan of blocks that were to be hand-picked or machine-picked, and didn’t deviate from that plan. “We didn’t go above and beyond our requirements.”
But manpower shortages in the winery were felt keenly this season, with “possibly our most inexperienced crew ever”. Richard says the Hawke’s Bay winery had its highest ever proportion of New Zealand staff and while this created a fantastic atmosphere in the cellar, work pressures were high. Villa, which runs a six-day vintage week, took the three, eight-hour shifts a day of 2020 and tweaked them to three ten-hour shifts for 2021. “It worked really well,” he says, “No staff worked more than 60 hours a week.”
Richard says generally benign conditions throughout an early and long vintage, with little disease pressure, were a boon to a green crew in the cellar, with few panicked picking decisions and fruit being harvested as and when it was ready.
Where the vintage puts Hawke’s Bay in the wider wine market is unknown. The quality is certainly there this vintage although it is possible production will not be able to meet demand, he says. “For us in Hawke’s Bay, we’re probably going to be tight on Pinot Gris and Chardonnay – in terms of volume.” That can be a positive, offering opportunity to try and increase value, he says. “Hopefully, it can help us chase some more value at the commercial end.”
Trinity Hill Winemaker Damian Fischer says Chardonnay and Syrah are the highlight of Hawke’s Bay’s vintage. “Syrah has bright aromatics and great, great texture. The Chardonnay was ripe with high acid and filled with vibrancy.” Cabernet Sauvignon came in “good and ripe” but “a bit edgy” he says. “It’s not green, it’s just not the same as the last couple of years.”
Finding staff for the winery was “tough”, but there were fewer issues in the vineyard, thanks to “very good standing relationship with the picking crews”.
There’s no reason to be concerned about the quality coming through in 2021, but how it plays through in overseas markets will be interesting to see, says Damian. Talking broadly across the export markets, he feels it will take a while to rebuild and get momentum off the back of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic overseas. “We’ve got some good wine coming through the system… But the supply and demand balance hasn’t come into balance. The export markets are weak and we’re going to have to work at rebuilding momentum.”
It is encouraging that in addressing this imbalance, Hawke’s Bay is primed on the export scene, with a string of very good to excellent vintages, he says. “As momentum picks up in the future, the region can come onto the market with an enviable run of high-quality wines.”