Here we go again! Harvest is about to begin over the next month or so for grape growers around the region. The grapes are starting to change colour and soften, the birds are showing an interest in eating them, and the growers are watching the forecasts and the skies constantly – and praying for no rain.
It’s at this point I would usually go into a bit more depth about the weather and how it affects wine grapes, but I’m not going to in this article. We have more serious concerns for the upcoming harvest season, which is people. I was down in the Coromandel during January – peak season – and noticed a lot of restaurants were only open three or four nights a week. There were signs on every door asking for understanding as they were unable to find enough staff to offer their normal service. I’m sure there were businesses with similar problems up here, but right across the country there are also stories of orchards with fruit unpicked because of a lack of people to help with the harvest.
If Matakana were a larger grape growing area, we may have contractors with grape harvesting equipment, which reduces the need for people to pick grapes by hand. These machines straddle the vine row and vibrate the trunk of the vine. This vibration runs through the entire vine until it reaches the grape bunches, where the berries fall off the stems and into a hopper. However, as we are a boutique grape growing region, we are not set up for this type of grape harvesting, so we rely on hand picking, and for that we need people.
Hand picking is great as the pickers can very quickly check every bunch and discard anything that the winemaker might deem inferior, which leads to better quality grapes and the resulting wine. It is also appropriate for certain wine styles, including sparkling wine made by methode champenoise, and Chardonnay that is being made to age. Hand picking allows for whole bunch pressing, where the whole bunches are loaded into a press and not crushed and destemmed on the way there. The idea is that the juice is quickly moved away from the grape skins once they break, minimising the extraction of bitter and oxidative components from the skin.
As Covid continues on its painful way, many winemakers are now looking for pickers. If you think you would be interested in picking grapes, or you know someone who might be, please email the Matakana Winegrowers by visiting https://matakanawine.co.nz/contact/. You can also find us on Facebook under Matakana Wine Trail.