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Newest Grape Growing Area Passes First Test

New Zealand's Newest Grape Growing Area Passes First Test

The harvest of five hectares of pinot noir grapes in the Waitaki Valley today looks set to silence those sceptical of the area's grape growing potential.

The premier harvest at Waitaki Valley Estate's trial block at Doctors Creek near Otiake will be carried out by hand and will be completed within a day.

And the signs are promising despite what has been a challenging year for grape growers around the country with frosts hitting Hawkes Bay vineyards and Marlborough's viticulturalists battling second bud burst caused by early frosts.

Otago Regional Council data shows below average growing degree days (the measure of heat accumulation over a growing season) this autumn for North Otago based on readings taken at Oamaru Airport and Windsor.

Despite below average degree totals relative to historic records, Waitaki Valley Estate's longer growing season has resulted in a physiologically riper crop relative to Central Otago vineyards.

Two of New Zealand's top winemakers will lend their expertise to the project with John Forrest of Forrest Wines and Greg Hay of Central Otago's Peregrine Wines overseeing this year's harvest. Peregrine recently employed last year's winemaker of the year Michelle Richardson who will assist Dean Shaw in making half the wine.

Dr Forrest, who owns vineyards in Marlborough, Central Otago and Hawkes Bay, is among a growing number of viticulturalists lending their support to the venture.

"The area shows real potential. The grapes have ripened free of rot in what has been a difficult year for viticulturalists. Despite less than ideal conditions throughout the rest of the country, the fruit shows excellent flavour and chemical analysis," he says.

"What I've seen so far is potentially as good as any pinot noir grapes I've seen in Marlborough or Central Otago this vintage."

Sugar in the fruit reached optimal levels this week.

"The current vintage is the first opportunity we've had to assess the potential of fruit grown in the Waitaki Valley. It's been extremely reassuring that promising early indications are coming to fruition," Mr Hay says.

"One of the noticeable differences is that due to the gradual autumn, vineyard canopies in the Waitaki Valley have been able to function. That has allowed fruit to ripen for a lot longer than many other regions throughout the country this vintage."

Dr Forrest will harvest about 60% of the trial block, which will yield five tonnes of grapes destined for processing into around 3,500 litres of wine at his Marlborough winery.

The grapes will be fermented in small open fermenters and the wine then aged in French oak for about ten months before being bottled next autumn. At this stage no decisions have been made about which label the wine will eventually be sold under.

Waitaki Valley Estates represents a group of businesspeople, including Howard Paterson, Colin Reynolds and Stephen Cozens, who recognised the Waitaki Valley's previously untapped potential at a time when supply of quality viticultural land is under pressure in established grape growing regions.

Following the success of this year's vintage, the Company has reassessed land prices at the current subdivision and will increase prices from $20,000 per hectare to $30,000 per hectare.

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