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New Zealand winemakers knew that 2002 would be a big harvest, but many underestimated just how big. This year, the country's grape crop has shattered all previous records with early estimates putting it at about 137, 500 tons -- an increase of 75 percent over last year.
"Wineries have had to beg, borrow or build spare tanks to handle the surplus," said Marlborough vintner Allan Scott of Allan Scott Wines, which makes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. "Local dairy factories have been helping desperate wineries by storing their wine for them. There are even a few instances of grapes being left on the vine because there is simply nowhere to put them."
Every region apart from Nelson, which is at the northwestern tip of New Zealand's South Island, appears to have had a bountiful harvest. Nelson suffered wet weather during flowering, resulting in a crop shortfall of about 30 percent below average.
Much of the country experienced unseasonably wet conditions toward the end of summer in January and February. The extra rain stimulated vine growth, forcing more quality-focused winemakers to devote extra time to leaf-plucking and shoot-thinning.
The good news is that there will be plenty of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand's most sought-after wine. The downside is that the quality is likely to be variable.
Steve Smith, general manager and winemaker at the new Craggy Range winery, which has vineyards in the North Island regions of Hawke's Bay and Martinborough, reported that weather conditions allowed conscientious producers to make top wine if they controlled crop levels to below 5 tons per acre. "Quality will have suffered in any vineyard that has produced crops significantly above that figure," said Smith. "In extreme cases, wines will lack flavor intensity and weight."
A warm dry spell in March and April provided good ripening conditions that generally favored later-ripening red varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Trinity Hill manager and winemaker John Hancock was enthusiastic about the quality of these reds from Hawke's Bay. "This promises to be one of the best ever vintages, particularly in warmer Hawke's Bay sites such as the Gimblett Gravels district," he said.
Pinot Noir fared exceptionally well in the South Island's Central Otago region, according to Greg Hay of Peregrine Wines. "We had 45 days without rain before we picked our Pinot Noir," he said. "It had the smallest, most flavor-concentrated berries that I have ever seen. We have had a dream run over the last five vintages, but this could easily be the best yet."
Read the 2001 harvest report:
Read editor at large Harvey Steiman's most recent tasting report on New Zealand wines:
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