A letter from the vineyards of Aotearoa New Zealand

March 01, 2023

A letter from the vineyards of Aotearoa New Zealand

On behalf of all Hawke’s Bay vignerons, thanks to each and every one of you for the heartfelt messages we have had from the wine community all over the world following the cyclone.

I write this letter from my office in Hawke’s Bay on the last day of February 2023. It is raining again. We have had a year’s worth of rain fall on our Heretaunga Plains winegrowing region in just three months – a period when we would normally have had a couple of drought-breaking weather fronts pass through and that’s all. The hills are scarred in places by these rains and remain radiantly green and lush when they would normally be dry and tanned by the summer sun. It has been a summer largely without a summer.

The cyclone was an extreme La Niña weather event in the first instance, part of the normal cycle of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation climate pattern. This is our third year of La Niña, which in itself is highly unusual, and likely the first glimmer of climate-change impacts playing a part. El Niño and benign climate patterns will return and with them great vintages. We will learn and adapt to a different way of dealing with the two or three vintages per decade that are less than ideal and likely to become more dramatic.

In Hawke’s Bay a number of our vineyards and wineries have faced devastating consequences from the cyclone. Our heart goes out to our friends and fellow vignerons. The wine community is rallying behind them as much as possible to help deal with their devastation. Most of the region’s vineyards and wineries are not damaged by silt or flooding, however we are all facing a tough vintage. Many of us have had to deal with less-than-favourable La Niña summers before. There are a few grey beards and strands of luxurious grey hair in Hawke’s Bay now! We will be calling on these experienced heads, great viticulture, and the free-draining soils of the Gimblett Gravels, Bridge Pa, Crownthorpe and Mangatahi districts, alongside small, isolated parcels of sloping, free-draining lands across the region, to get us through.

We need a little love from Ranginui, the sky father – some early autumn sunshine and warmth would not go amiss. Tomorrow is the first day of autumn, the critical period for determining eventual grape and wine quality and the weather forecast is much more promising.

Our desire to produce exceptional wines remains strong. Our will is being challenged. We will do everything we can to prevail. All we ask is that when the Hawke’s Bay wines of 2023 find their way to your glass, you treat each wine on its merits. And further north I’m sure Michael Brajkovich MW at Kumeu River, Duncan McTavish of Man O’War, and Ben Byrne at The Landing will say the same thing.

Finally, the South Island, as is normal under a La Niña weather pattern, basks in the warmth and dryness of a potentially exceptional vintage (I hope I haven’t just jinxed it!). Remember New Zealand is a long skinny wine country stretching over 1,000 miles from top to bottom, with wine regions that are climatically diverse and every year have startling differences in weather patterns. Once again, we ask that you don’t pre-judge the wines from these regions because other parts of the country are having a challenging vintage. Or maybe you judge them now based on the vintage conditions that currently prevail … exceptional!

The writing has finished … the rain has stopped … a couple of days’ drying and time to get picking!

Steve Smith MW
Kaiahuwhenua tō Waina (Vigneron), Aotearoa New Zealand, 28 February 2023

First published March 1, 2023 on jancisrobinson.com, read the full article here.