It’s early days but there’s quiet confidence among Waiheke winemakers of an excellent 2017 harvest – even if holidaymakers went home less than impressed with the weather.
Just how elusive the summer was over the traditional holiday period was unofficially confirmed by a Weather Watch poll in mid-January – with 63 per cent agreeing “the weather’s awful”.
On Waiheke, as throughout the northern region, December and January were very windy, temperatures fluctuated wildly and it was very dry. With sea temperatures cooler than normal and hot, clear days interrupted by cooler, cloudy days, holidaymakers had a frustrating break.
Yet this less than vintage summer has proved fine to date for the island’s winegrowers. Early-spring rain followed by warm December sunshine provided ideal conditions during flowering and fruit-set, winemakers report. Since then there’s been very little rain, with both December and January well down on average rainfall.
To complete the job, growers want traditional February and March weather – long, sunny days and warmth.
Miro Vineyard’s Barnett Bond says high winds and dry weather are quite beneficial as they lower the risk of fungal diseases establishing. “It means we don’t have to spray so often. It’s when you get it still and humid that we have to spray a lot.
Just 15 mm of rain fell in December and it stayed very dry until two good bursts of rain in late-January on the 22nd and 26th.
“It has been an extraordinarily dry year but these little rainfalls are enough to keep the vines trucking along. We couldn’t really ask for a more perfect growing season so far. All we need from here is a bit of heat and bright blue rather than cloudy skies.
Growers and makers figure they deserve a break after last year’s difficult harvest. Humid conditions and frequent rain forced a lot of fruit to be discarded.
“Last year it rained every single week from September to harvest and every rain day was followed by still days,” Mr Bond says. “There was lots of rot and most of us lost a lot of crop. This year is exactly the opposite. It was warm for flowering and the conditions have been perfect for varieties such as merlot.
“We haven’t got huge crops but moderate to big crops among all our varieties. Some years if you get a lot of rain early you have to do a lot of thinning.
“It’s looking like a harmonious year this year: the balance is nearly perfect. Now all we need is good sunshine and a little more rain won’t hurt.
“With some reasonably warm, bright blue days it could turn out like 2008 and if it doesn’t get much hotter it could still be a good year that ages well in the bottle like 2009. Short of a cyclone it will be either a good or a very good year.”
Mudbrick head winemaker Patrick Newton says early varieties may be ready for harvesting in early March. He’s anticipating a lower yield but higher quality harvest.
Mudbrick has vineyards at Church Bay and the Onetangi Valley and none of its vines were damaged in the weekend storm of 21-22 January when 100 km/h winds buffeted the island.
“At the moment we’re very optimistic; we think it’s going to be a cracker of a season if the weather stays the same. The ground was incredibly dry and it needed a bit of rain to refresh things.
“We haven’t had a strong southwesterly flow on the island for a number of years.”
The drought affecting northern parts of the country may be concerning pastoral farmers but Te Motu’s general manager Craig Biggs has fingers crossed for fine, clear skies.
“It’s really early to tell and we don’t want to jinx things – we’ve got a lot of good fruit out there.
“But despite the weather we are really pleased with the way our vineyards are performing.
“We’ve had that windy spell but it’s been dry and the wind helps keep some of these disease processes at bay.
“We could be in for a quality yield.”
Metservice meteorologist Tom Adams says the weather pattern of fronts weakening under high pressure systems in the north is typical of a New Zealand summer.
Climate agency Niwa concedes much of January was “poor” with sea temperatures colder than normal. Niwa is predicting settled and warm weather for the start of February but meteorologist Ben Noll says there are indications of a wet spell hitting the north mid-month. • Geoff Cumming

Subscribe and read Gulf News and Waiheke Weekender Online