Thank God we got the last of our reds in before the rain!" sighs a relieved Mel Lawson from Cypress Wines in Hawke's Bay. "It is just horrible here, hosing down in fact. But there are growers out there with fruit still on the vines, so I've got no idea how they'll get on."
That was the state of play last Tuesday, the day before the region experienced severe flooding on the tail end of what's been a rough year for most North Island wine regions.
"We're all okay here," says Clearview Estate's Tim Turvey, "The rest of Te Awanga is a bit of a train wreck though. With a bit of fruit still to come in, it'll be a very late harvest."
Wet and wild La Nina weather patterns put a real dampener on the 2011 ripening season. With the exception of those poor farmers in Hawke's Bay who've suffered terribly in the April floods, normally a bit of autumn rain is a great thing as it means good future grass growth; yet our winegrowers generally greet autumn rain with fists in the air and foul language. Rain encourages bunch rot (botrytis) and thirsty vines soak up water like a sponge, distributing that water up into the berries. This then causes the berries to swell and dilutes those intense, concentrated flavours needed to create fabulous wine.
Nelson has also had it tough with growers really battling the conditions to manage crop spoilage from things like slip-skin and acetobacter (bacteria which can give grapes a vinegar-like flavour). Wineries like Waiheke Island's Destiny Bay have adopted the very expensive but extremely effective method of loading all the fruit on to sorting tables where only the best individual grapes are selected to go into the ferment.
Marlborough is the powerhouse of New Zealand's wine production and is putting a positive spin on things with growers saying most grapes in Marlborough have been harvested and winemakers are hoping for a good end to the vintage, despite the heavy rain.
They're also not worried about fruit still on the vines with Constellation New Zealand's viticulture and winemaking manager, Darryl Woolley, saying that this late in the season canopies were shutting down, so dilution of flavours by vines taking up moisture from the soil shouldn't be a problem.
What could be a problem though, according to some North Island growers of those big, full-bodied red varieties like syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, is that while most of the fruit bought in was flavour-ripe, the sugar levels weren't as high as they'd usually like. "It just means we'll have to be careful and creative in the winery," says Mel with a shrug.
It could be a blessing in disguise as lower alcohol levels may mean a swing to the more elegant, gentle red styles that the French are famous for.
Wine lovers with a sweet tooth won't be left wanting as the weather across the regions is ideal for fans of the sweet, sticky dessert styles.
All this extra moisture and mild daytime temperatures mean botrytis will lay claim to those aromatic whites like gewurztraminer and riesling, encouraging the berries to shrivel, concentrating all those gorgeous honey, toffee and stonefruit flavours and making me a happy girl indeed.