Quality, not quantity: rain reduces grape harvest but vignerons still optimistic

THE region’s riesling crop was ravaged by rain and suffered extensive losses, but the vintage will be of the same high standard, says Orange Region Vignerons Association executive member James Sweetapple. 

Orange growers experienced a trying season, with rainfall throughout the harvest leading to crop losses of about 30 per cent.

Varieties such as shiraz and riesling were the hardest hit.

Heavy rain at the end of February and the beginning of March caught most growers off-guard and, as a result, most of the region’s riesling grapes were decimated, Mr Sweetapple said. 

The Cargo Road Wines winemaker said he was one of the few lucky ones who watched the weather closely and managed to harvest on February 26, three days before his orchard received about 60 millimetres of rain. 

“[Growers] lost significant amounts because of botrytis cinerea, which is a mould that significantly affects the quality,” he said. 

“This is the wettest late summer-autumn we’ve had. It’s like leaving wet clothes in the washing machine for a week, it’s not good.”

It was the fifth wet season in a row for Orange growers. 

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the average rainfall for March is about 64 millimetres, but last month Orange received 159 millimetres.

The region is more than halfway towards its April rainfall average of 51 millimetres with 29.8 millimetres by April 19. 

Mr Sweetapple said the rain meant winemakers had a tough job ahead of them, because every time it rained it changed the flavour of the grape. 

“They say you’re only as good as your last bottle,” he said. 

“Good wineries will always put good wine on the shelf ... you’re not going to put something out that is a poorer quality.”

He said while the heavy rain in March was not good for the grapes, neither was the drought, which reduced his yield by about 50 per cent, but he was  preparing to bottle and was looking on the bright side. 

“Orange is a strong region and premium region.”

nicole.kuter@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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