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VINTAGE 2003: Low Yields Dominate


VINTAGE 2003: Low Yields Dominate

New Zealand Winegrowers estimates grape growers and winemakers harvested 76,400 tonnes of grapes in 2003, 42,300 tonnes or 35% down on the previous year.

The figure, from the annual Vintage Survey, is slightly above the mid-harvest estimate released by New Zealand Winegrowers, but is still well down on original industry expectations for the vintage.

Commenting on the harvest, New Zealand Winegrowers Chief Executive Philip Gregan said, “Overall, the dominant feature of the vintage is the extremely low yield our vineyards have experienced this year. The average national yield of just 4.9 tonnes per hectare is well below long term averages, and reflects the cool Spring in 2002 that caused frost damage to vines and led to a reduced fruit set after flowering. However it is positive that some areas escaped these effects and the total crop has come in above our mid-vintage estimate which means higher than expected supplies of some varieties.”

Mr Gregan said the low vintage would make for a frustrating year for the industry. “We had been expecting continuing export growth in the next year, but those expectations will now have to be put on hold. Fortunately there are good supplies of Vintage 2002 Chardonnays and red wines that will support domestic and export sales over the next twelve months” said Mr Gregan, “and the industry is already looking forward to a much larger vintage in 2004.”

Quality

“The key issue with Vintage 2003 is that the reduced yield will not impact negatively on vintage quality” commented Mr Gregan. “Quality and vintage size are two distinctly different issues.”

“In terms of quality the key periods are summer and autumn ripening periods, and in those respects 2003 was a normal vintage. Autumn delivered its usual mixture of fine warm days and cool clear nights, vital pre-requisites for flavour and colour development, so there should be plenty of vintage highlights for consumers to enjoy,” said Mr Gregan.

Mr Gregan noted, however, that a final determination of the quality of the vintage will develop over the next year to 18 months. “It is premature at this stage to make any definitive statements, but overall winemakers appear quietly confident about the vintage, although of course there will always be regional, varietal and inter-company variation.”

Regional Production

Regionally in terms of tonnes harvested, Vintage 2003 was the exact opposite of Vintage 2002. This year Nelson and Central Otago were the only regions to benefit from a larger harvest, whereas last year they were the only two regions to experience production falls. Comparative changes in production with vintage 2002 were as follows :

2002 2003 Change % Change Nelson 1,785 3,149 1,364 +76% Otago 1,519 1,825 306 +20% Northland 186 182 -4 -2% Marlborough 54,496 40,537 -13,958 -26% Canterbury 1,972 1,422 -550 -28% Wellington 2,022 1,311 -711 -35% Gisborne 26,587 14,350 -12,236 -46% Waikato 932 497 -434 -47% Auckland 1,526 715 -811 -53% Hawkes Bay 25,661 10,832 -14,829 -58%

“The production increases in Otago and Nelson are very positive for those regions,” commented Mr Gregan, “and reflect the fact that these areas appear to have experienced normal Spring conditions last year.”

Marlborough was again the largest producing region in 2003, comprising 54% of the vintage, while Gisborne harvested 19% and Hawkes Bay 15% of the grape crop. Together the three largest regions represented 88% of the harvest, compared with 92% in Vintage 2002. The largest producing of the smaller regions in 2003 was Nelson, replacing Wellington/Wairarapa region who held the honour in 2002.

Varietal Production

While all varieties experienced a decline in production in 2003, some varieties were much less affected by the production downturn than others. Changes in production for the major grape varieties compared with 2002 were as follows:

2002 2003 Change % Change Pinot Noir 10,402 9,402 -1,000 -10% Sauvignon Blanc 36,742 28,266 -8,477 -23% Merlot 6,502 4,957 -1,545 -24% Cabernet Sauvignon 4,375 3,201 -1,174 -27% Semillon 3,053 2,192 -861 -28% Riesling 5,038 3,376 -1,662 -33% Chardonnay 33,883 15,534 -18,350 -54% Muller Thurgau 4,806 1,685 -3,121 -65% “Reduced yields affected all varieties this vintage,” said Mr Gregan “but it is clear that for some key varieties new plantings have offset this to an extent. In particular, the crops of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, while below last year’s record levels, are still the second largest ever harvested by the industry.”

Sauvignon Blanc was the leading variety harvested accounting for 38% of the vintage this year, compared with 32% in 2002. The next most important variety was

Chardonnay with 21% of the vintage, while Pinot Noir, the most abundant red variety, had the third highest tonnage with 13% of the vintage.

Vintage Availability The first of the Vintage 2003 wines are just now starting to appear in the domestic market and are being shipped for export. Initial releases are generally of varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris, followed later by Chardonnay, and then by reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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