Wine – The summer of our discontent

No one really saw Auckland’s summer of 2023 coming. After winter and spring had both been at record, or near record, levels of rainfall, a little respite was generally hoped for. But given that our 2019 through to 2022 summers had all been largely hot and dry, when water tankers ran 24 hours a day, and our local vineyards flourished – a wet winter, and even spring didn’t feel out of place.

Any respite obviously proved to be wishful thinking, however – the impact of around 1000mm of summer rain in our region impacting through not only the sheer volume of rainfall, but the time grapevine canopies spent continuously wet. Disease pressure (particularly powdery and downy mildew) was extremely high on the grapevine foliage as a consequence. This, in turn, put considerable pressure on vineyards to maintain protective spray programmes in very unfavourable, and in some cases impossible, conditions when vineyard soils were too wet for spray equipment to enter at crucial times.

If that wasn’t enough, some of the region’s more coastal vineyards were additionally impacted when the massive winds of Cyclone Gabrielle whipped sea spray from the storm’s surf across the land, causing salt burn to the canopies of vineyards in their path. This effectively shut down the vines photosynthetic engines just as ripening was entering full swing.

Yet, for all these challenges, several local vineyards have still managed to bring some, if not all, of their grapes to harvest. The relatively benign and settled weather of our autumn allowing those vineyards who, through good management and good luck, survived the summer onslaught to achieve some hard-earned reward for their considerable work through the year. These Matakana wines from 2023 will be limited in number and predominantly earlier ripening white varieties or rosé wines. The settled autumn has allowed these grapes to be harvested in surprisingly good condition and will make attractive wines, representative of what has been a challenging season, but also of the tenacity of those who have battled to make them a reality.

2023 will be a bitter pill to swallow for those Matakana vineyards who haven’t been able to produce any wine. These struggles are shared across other wine regions in Auckland and the wider North Island, where many others also experienced enormous challenges – none more so than the vineyards destroyed by flooding in parts of the Hawkes Bay. Collectively, our hearts bleed for those who have truly lost all, a salutary reminder that while this growing season has been tough, we are fortunate to be able to bounce back immediately next year.

And bounce back we will – buoyed partly by the recent shift out of the La Nina Pacific weather pattern back towards the El Nino pattern, which tends to bring us colder winters and more settled drier summers, but primarily by the passion that drives all grape growers and winemakers to create something that can be shared and enjoyed widely, reflective of its unique place and of the people who have crafted it.

Matakana Winegrowers