Earliest start on record for Upper Hunter grape harvest 2018

EARLY HARVEST: Hollydene Estate's Kurt Hamilton, John Williams and Brent Hutton with the first self-propelled Pellenc harvester in the Hunter Valley.
EARLY HARVEST: Hollydene Estate's Kurt Hamilton, John Williams and Brent Hutton with the first self-propelled Pellenc harvester in the Hunter Valley.

HARVEST has started early at local vineyards Two Rivers and Hollydene Estate despite Mother Nature wreaking havoc elsewhere with her lack of rain, heat waves, wind and lightning storms.

And, so far, vineyard operators are optimistic and enthusiastic about the quality of this year’s harvest.

At Two Rivers, Denman, harvest began last Thursday, January 4, with Verdelho and Chardonnay grapes and then Semillon earlier this week.

“It was our earliest start date ever,” Two Rivers’ Linda Keeping said.

“Traditionally we start by the end of the second week of January but harvest is marching along despite the heat and drought and consistent warm weather.

“Our vines are almost 30 years old, have a great canopy and are holding up really well.”

Mrs Keeping said they aimed to finish the whites sometime next week then wait for the reds to ripen.

Over at Hollydene Estate’s Arrowfield vineyard near Jerrys Plains, it was a midnight date with a new self-propelled harvester on Wednesday night and a 5am finish with the grapes chilling in the winery by 6am.

Hollydene’s Karen Williams said they had harvested five acres of Semillon overnight and planned to harvest the Chardonnay block next.

Grapes are harvested in the cool of the night as warmer temperatures can oxidise the wine.

“The harvested fruit is lovely and clean and of extremely good quality,” Mrs Williams said on Thursday morning.

“Temperature is crucial to our whites, the reds not so much. 

“Tonnage may be down slightly but with the new harvester we will end up with more litres per tonne by far.”

Mrs Williams said the weather had actually been good for grapes.    

“It’s been intensive to keep the water up to the vines but we’ve been able to keep the leaves on and sugar levels are good,” she explained.

“But it’s no different to any other agricultural crop, the weather could change that at any time.

“I don’t like to predict anything until the grapes are at the winery.”

Hollydene has recently purchased a French-made harvester from Pellenc, the first of its kind in the Hunter which will make harvest more efficient by sorting stalk as it harvests creating being more gentle on vines, most of which were planted in the 1960s.

“The guys said the new harvester is just magic to operate,” Mrs Williams said.

“We also don’t lose any juice on the ground and the grapes are cleaner than if they were handpicked.”

James Estate at Sandy Hollow is bucking the early-harvest trend slightly, aiming to start mid-next week with Chardonnay then Verdelho, at about the same time as harvest last year.

Winemaker Alex Finnie said fingers crossed the weather would continue to go around the vineyard until after harvest.

Hollydene grapes are sent to Matt Burton, Gundog Estate, while Two Rivers’ offering head to First Creek Wines and winemaker Liz Silkman.