Harvesting Grapes during a Global Pandemic

2020 aka The Covid Vintage.

As good as the wines from 2020 are, the vintage will probably be remembered more for Covid-19 as much for wine quality.

We had a couple of very, very nervous days at the beginning, unsure if harvest was even going to go ahead. Vintage is stressful enough in its own right, we definitely didn’t need that. To have spent the whole year - all your effort, energy and money - riding the emotional rollercoaster of the weather that every farmer rides, only to be told at the last moment it was all in vain would have been truly heartbreaking.

Fortunately, the wine industry was deemed an essential service, and rightly so: the New Zealand wine industry brings in close to $2 billion in export income per year. As a small island nation normally reliant on tourism to maintain a robust economy, we will need that money now more than ever.

We were able to continue, albeit under extremely strict protocols. Everyone in the industry took the responsibility seriously. I guess the proof is in the fact that were no Covid-19 cases among winemakers, viticulturists, or anyone associated with them.

There was one bonus: usually during harvest after working long hours, sometimes being wet and cold, being “run down” someone picks up one of those standard winter colds (a.k.a. the man flu) and it gets passed around the whole team. Not this year, I would have to say it was the healthiest harvest I’ve ever seen.

We will all remember the “bubble” we were in through levels 4 and 3. Mine was in the vineyard in Gibbston. Visits to the winery were as few as possible, then only to taste, and well away from the winery crew. So discussion around the workings of the winery and wine quality I will leave for Jen and Karl to elaborate on in their post, which you can find here.

I will stick to the vineyard as that is where my time was spent.

As you can imagine the nature of picking was completely different from other years. Harvest time is normally the highlight of a winemaker's year. It is the gathering in of the season's hard work; It’s something to share; it’s a hugely social event: people working side by side up and down the rows of vines. There is the energetic buzz of 20 or so different conversations, the long lunches of shared food and wine glasses as different wines are compared. It is a time of friendly humanity and camaraderie.

NOT 2020. First there were so many requests from friends wanting to come and help, any excuse to be allowed out and have some human contact, no matter how restrained it was. It was not enjoyable at all to have to repeatedly say “no we are full.

The crew was less than half the size of our usual vintage teams. They generally worked alone on their own rows with another row separating them from the next closest picker. Conversation was replaced with the peace and quiet that all of us who live here will remember as the hallmark of “lockdown”.

It wasn’t bad, just different. Quite pleasant in a way. You could sense the individual thought, reflection and contemplation that replaced conversation.

Oh, and the efficiency! Man the efficiency! We completed harvest in almost half the time with half as many people! Who says we can work and talk at the same time?! But despite what my economist friend says, life isn’t just about efficiency; we are already looking forward to 2021 and what will hopefully be a “normal vintage”.



PS - If you'd like to read more about the 2020 Growing Season, continue on along to my post 2020 Vintage Report: A Wine Harvest To Be Remembered Among The Best.

If you'd like to hear the winery's perspective, head along to Making Wine During a Global Pandemic by Jen Parr and Karl Coombes