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New Zealand DroughtNew Zealand’s North Island has been suffering the worst drought since World War 2, so much so that it has made headlines throughout the world. The majority of this year’s agricultural crops are said to be a write-off and the government has stated that it is likely to cost the country NZ$2 billion, yet the wine industry is toasting what could be its most successful growing season yet. How is it possible that the grapes are going gangbusters in the face of such a severe water shortage?
Like any living thing, a vine will go into survival mode when its life is threatened. It redirects its energy away from producing leaves and climbing and puts it into reproduction. In these conditions, a vine will produce more berries, and in order to attract those seed-sowing, life spreading birds, will develop rich ripe flavours and more intense colours.
During a typical grape growing season, viticulturalists will try to coax the vine into putting its energy into the grapes instead of the greenery by clipping off leaves. But this year, because of the drought, this is happening naturally, saving wineries both time and money.
During a drought the vine’s roots will burrow further into the ground in search of water. They can also tap into nutrient deposits, which, as well as providing sustenance, are widely believed to contribute those coveted mineral-esque flavours to the wine. To top it off, deeper roots increase the vine’s chance of surviving future freezes, floods and droughts.
Goldwater Estate, Waiheke Island, New ZealandLess water in the ground means less water in the grapes, too. The wine will taste more intense and concentrated, and have many subtle flavours and aromas. The only problem is that if there is a downpour right before harvest the grapes can swell and even burst their skins leaving the door wide open for disease.
The dry weather also naturally controls mould growth in between the grapes and leaves on the vine, where moisture can get trapped. This, again, saves growers a lot of hassle as they don’t have to spray chemicals on the grapes to control infection. It also means that we consumers get a purer product.
While the optimal grape growing conditions continue in New Zealand’s summer, there is still plenty of room for the weather to affect the grapes adversely and for things to go wrong in the winery. Even still, I’m confident 2013 will be a vintage where we’ll see some of the less famous New Zealand wine regions bear fruit. Watch out for regions like the Hawke’s Bay, Gisbourne or Waiheke Island to break through as a worldwide household names. I’m hopeful that Waikato, Northland, and Matakana can cash in on the drought’s silver lining too.


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