An international degree student at EIT, Vanilla Peng is about to have her second taste of a Hawke’s Bay harvest, working the coming vintage in the laboratory at Ngatarawa Wines.
Several of the region’s wineries, including Villa Maria and Mission Estate, started their harvest in late February, picking grapes to make low alcohol wine.
Most, however, will begin in the next week or two with early varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and continue through March and April when they will finish with the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and premium Syrah.
Winegrowers are cautiously excited about the vintage. If, as predicted, the weather stays warm and relatively dry, they will have scored a hat trick – their third outstanding harvest in a row.
For winemaker Peter Gough, that would be a first in his 20 years of working at Ngatarawa – a very encouraging prospect, particularly as the region’s wineries work together to develop markets in China.
Chairman of Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Michael Henley says it would be big for any region to have three great successive vintages. Although it was still too early to call it, the quality was looking “amazing” although the yield would be somewhat down.
Also chief executive at Trinity Hill, Michael says the winery’s grapes, as with many others in Hawke’s Bay, are about a week behind where they would normally be at this time of year.
The region got off to a late start, with cool weather around flowering. By Christmas, many winegrowers were several weeks behind but a very warm January, followed by a benign February, helped bring the grapes on.
The only real issue was occasional outbreaks of powdery mildew which has proved more of a challenge for growers over the last three years.
From Nanjing in China, Vanilla will work as a vintage lab assistant at Ngatarawa over the next few months – work experience that will count towards her Bachelor of Wine Science.
She will be responsible for grape analysis, fermentation control, preparing yeasts to inoculate the ferments and, when the pressure comes on, help out as fruit arrives at the winery.
Vanilla, who came to Hawke’s Bay as a 17-year-old, started at EIT with a Certificate in Science and progressed to the Diploma in Grapegrowing and Winemaking. She is now in the final year of her studies.
“The plan all along was to do the degree,” she says.
Last year Vanilla worked at Mission Estate part-time, dovetailing that with her studies.
EIT wine science and viticulture students are joining the many extra hands helping to bring in Hawke’s Bay’s grape harvest.
Managing their placements at wineries around the region, senior lecturer in wine science David Moore says that’s a win-win arrangement for both.
For wineries, gearing up for their busiest time of year, the students offered themselves as committed and enthusiastic staff, frequently working 12-hour days to handle the incoming grapes.
Although vintage involves very demanding and exhausting work, it gives students first-hand practical experience in the industry – an important component of EIT’s viticulture and wine science programmes, says David.