The harvest in 2017 was an unusual one from several perspectives.
Firstly, the summer was unusually cool, with temperatures only reaching a maximum of 27°C on two separate days in early February. Normally, we would expect at least one or two days to reach 30°C, and a good many more in the 26-30°C range.
Secondly, the weather was particularly windy, which dried the soil out and resulted in distinct signs of water stress in the vineyards. This ended up being quite favourable as it seemed to bring forward the date of maturity. The wind was also very instrumental in keeping temperatures down.
Thirdly, the harvest season was punctuated by several episodes of rain. The first was a 50mm hit on the 16th of February, well before we started harvesting the sparkling wine grapes on the 21st. This rain had no effect at all, because the ground was so dry that it disappeared without a trace.
We started picking the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes for our premium table wines in the week commencing 27th February, and during this time we were able to take in the Hunting Hill Chardonnay in perfect condition.
A further 25mm of rain on the 7th of March turned our attention to the Pinot Gris vineyards. Pinot Gris does not handle rain well, so we made it a priority to harvest all of this variety as quickly as possible, and this was given a hurry-up with another 100mm of rain on the 10th of March, and 35mm on the 12th.
Our insistence on hand-harvesting all of the grapes really pays off in seasons like this. The picking team in the vineyard takes great pains to ensure that the fruit arriving at the presses is in the best possible condition, and this was certainly the case this year. There was no rot in the Pinot Gris, and the wines show a purity of fruit that would not have been possible with machine harvesting. The only downside was some dilution of the grape juice due to the rain adhering to the grape bunches.
Chardonnay is usually much more resilient to rainfall than Pinot Gris, and this again proved to be so. The grapes were nicely ripened and in superb condition when they arrived at the winery, with only a small amount of dilution apparent. We were able to complete the Chardonnay harvest by the 24th of March which was indeed fortunate because we had all of the 2017 Vintage in the cellar before either of the two cyclonic events that swept over New Zealand during April.