The North Canterbury wine region is marking the official start of harvest, in what has been described as the ‘toughest season ever’. Dubbed ‘the coolest little wine region’, North Canterbury is the fourth largest wine region in New Zealand, with nearly 1400 ha planted in vines, while it employs over 600 people across the 71 wineries in the area.
For this harvest, the combination of challenging weather and operating in a Covid environment placed additional pressure on local vineyards this season.
Hurunui District Council mayor Marie Black picked the first grapes of harvest at one of the region’s vineyards.
“The North Canterbury Wine Region is a crucial part of our district’s fabric and I can only imagine all the hours and hard work that has gone in to getting to this point,” says Mayor Black. North Canterbury Winegrowers Association chairperson Mike Saunders joined the mayor at Greystone Wines for the first pick of the crop.
Mike says wineries across the region are now preparing for a harvest with Omicron at their doorsteps, meaning many are working under restricted harvest conditions. “Our grapes won’t wait for Covid so we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves and ensure we can remain operational,” says Mike.
Mike is also viticulturist at Greystone wines, where vineyard and winery teams will have to say goodbye to each other for now, to avoid contact. “We’re splitting our teams into two distinct bubbles so we can carry on as best we can in case a team member has to isolate. It’s nothing new to us though, as we had to operate like this during the first lockdown at the start of the pandemic.”
Measures new to this season include having two teams of pickers who will be distanced across rows. For the vineyard team, individuals will be assigned a tractor, with nobody working in anything but the tractor assigned to them.
“The reality is Omicron is coming so we have to be prepared. Given we’re lucky to have critical worker status, we have to be exemplary and that’s what we intend to be,” says Mike. While it has been one of the toughest seasons Mike has ever worked, the fruit is looking superb, he says.