Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Covid-19 vintage 2020 difficult but rewarding

Vintages can be tough to report on because the proof is always in the bottle rather than the early reports but 2020 was remarkable in New Zealand in that it took place at all, due to the Covid-19 lockdown just as vintage was about to start.

Claire Edward of Wairarapa Wines writes that the 2020 season will go down in history as one of the most difficult logistically, emotionally and physically. She shares her vintage report here, which covers Martinborough, Gladstone, Carterton and the northern Wairarapa around Masterton. The Wairarapa is the third smallest of New Zealand’s 10 wine regions. It currently has approximately 983 hectares of producing vineyard land. This is forecast to increase significantly in the near future with huge investment by Craggy Range on Te Muna Road, where it has purchased over 100 hectares of land to plant, predominantly in Sauvignon Blanc.

Wairarapa Wines report on vintage 2020

The 2020 season will go down as one of the most memorable as the region pulled together to overcome the adversities of Covid-19 as vintage unfolded.

Vintage was looking promising for wineries across the Wairarapa with excellent ripening conditions and above average yields. What would usually be a tense month delving into weather patterns, morphed into something no one could have foreseen with a worldwide pandemic affecting the nation.

The season began with a wonderful flowering producing even berry and bunch size not seen for some time. Stable weather conditions followed with near drought conditions in February and March across the region, which had the winemakers excited about the coming harvest. Harvest kicked off in Martinborough with the sparkling varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both showing wonderful acidity and flavours.

The balance of harvest followed with all varieties showing great promise especially our regional hero, Pinot Noir. Comments included that it was one of the most favourable Pinot Noir seasons in many years. The resulting wines show deep colour, pure varietal flavours and great tannin structure.

Our region was around 60% through when the pandemic shut down the nation leading to a shortage in labour to complete harvest. Wineries had to call on those close; family members, friends, children and neighbouring wineries to ensure fruit was harvested and their hard work would be realised. The majority of Martinborough was harvested prior to the much needed rain of 130mm in late March, unlike the Gladstone and Masterton sub-regions. However, due to the drought conditions, the ground had the capacity to soak up the rain not compromising the concentration of flavours in the remaining fruit in these sub-regions.

The overall quality of the harvest was outstanding and one of the best seen in the past decade, making it an extraordinary vintage, considering the added pressure of a pandemic. Across the board, Chardonnay is looking the best in a long while, the aromatics Riesling and Pinot Gris looking particularly classical with lovely aromas and Pinot Noir, the grateful showstopper of the region once again, showed  concentrated and archetypal flavours.

The 2020 season will go down in history as one of the most difficult logistically, emotionally and physically. An enormous thank you to New Zealand Winegrowers for their support to ensure the 2020 harvest could continue, allowing the region to pick through the pandemic and result in some extraordinary wines and memories.