Table of Contents
The Winemaking Regions of New Zealand
Area in producing vines 2020 (percentage of national producing vineyard area)
AUCKLAND (incl Northland): 396 ha (1.0%)
WAIKATO/BAY OF PLENTY: 13 ha (<0.1%)
- Pinot Noir,
GISBORNE: 1314 ha (3.0%)
- Pinot Gris,
- Sauvignon Blanc
HAWKE’S BAY: 4840 ha (12.0%)
- Sauvignon Blanc,
WAIRARAPA: 1019 ha (3.0%)
- Pinot Noir,
- Sauvignon Blanc,
- Pinot Gris
NELSON: 1185 ha (3.0%)
- Sauvignon Blanc,
- Pinot Noir,
- Pinot Gris
MARLBOROUGH: 26,693 ha (69%)
- Sauvignon Blanc,
- Pinot Noir,
- Pinot Gris
CANTERBURY (incl Waipara): 1435 ha (3.7%)
- Pinot Noir,
- Sauvignon Blanc,
OTAGO: 1992 ha (5.1%)
- Pinot Noir,
- Pinot Gris,
These figures (rounded to the closest percentages) are from New Zealand Winegrowers Vineyard Register Report 2017-2020. During the period 2017 to 2020, the total area of producing vines was predicted to expand from 36,943 to 38,886 hectares — a rise of just over 5 per cent.
7 = Outstanding
6 = Excellent
5 = Above average
4 = Average
3 = Below average
2 = Poor
1 = Bad
2020 Vintage Report
From the start, the prospects for superb wine from the 2020 vintage looked strong. “We know parts of the country have been in drought and the pastoral farmers don’t like that,” observed Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, on 23 May, “but for us in the wine industry, these conditions are absolutely tailor-made for producing great wine.”
“For overall fruit quality, this is one of the best vintages I’ve experienced,” enthused industry veteran Ivan Sutherland, of Dog Point Vineyard in Marlborough. In Hawke’s Bay, Nicholas Buck, CEO of Te Mata Estate, declared 2020 was “probably the greatest vintage” in hiscareer, “even better than 2019.”
With a total of 457,000 tonnes of grapes harvested, it was a bumper crop – 11 per cent bigger than 2019 and nearly 3 per cent above the previous record, set in 2014. Sauvignon Blanc dominated the harvest (73.8 per cent), followed by Pinot Noir (7.7 per cent), Pinot Gris (6.5 per cent), Chardonnay (6.2 per cent), Merlot (2.5 per cent) and Riesling (1 per cent). Almost 65 per cent of the country’s entire grape crop was of a single grape variety from a single region – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Spring began with average September temperatures around most of the country. October waswetter than usual in most east coast regions, with normal temperatures in the North Island and upper South Island, but colder than usual from central Canterbury to Otago.
Then in late spring, temperatures soared. November proved to be the country’s hottest-ever, coupled with below-average rain in east coast wine regions. By the end of spring, NIWA reported that the warmth in the North Island had “dried out the ground.”
Summer started in December as “a tale of two islands” – warmer than average in most of the North Island, but cooler than usual in the south. In early-mid January, NIWA reported “a broad swathe of the upper North Island, stretching from Cape Reinga to Coromandel and Waikato, along with parts of Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, were experiencing very dry conditions.”
February was a mixed bag – although wet in the south, extremely dry, warm weather in the upper South Island and North Island intensified the drought. In early autumn, on 12 March the entire North Island and parts of the South Island (including Tasman, Marlborough and North Canterbury) were declared officially to be in drought.
March temperatures were average across most of the North Island, but cooler than normal in the eastern and lower South Island. In April – the key harvest month – conditions stayed favourable for winegrowing, with mild temperatures, low rainfall and dry soils in most regions in the North Island and upper South Island.
Auckland (and Northland)
Expect some fine wines from the north this year. Villa Maria, based at Mangere, praised 2020 as “one of the best we have seen in Auckland, with near-perfect warm and dry conditions for ripening fruit without disease pressure.”
In Auckland, growers harvested 1249 tonnes of grapes – 21 per cent less than in 2019 and just 0.3 per cent of the national crop. Chardonnay was the principal variety (401 tonnes), followed by Pinot Gris (237 tonnes), Syrah (152 tonnes) and Merlot (141 tonnes.)
Northland growers harvested just 269 tonnes of grapes – 16 per cent less than in 2019 and less than 0.1 per cent of the national crop. Syrah topped the charts with 49 tonnes picked, just ahead of Pinot Gris (48 tonnes) and Chardonnay (41 tonnes.)
In spring, September was wetter and warmer than usual, followed by a warm October with average rainfall. November was drier than usual, with temperatures well above average.
Mudbrick, on Waiheke Island, reported “a difficult start to the season”, with some hail damage, “and all blocks being battered by constant windy wet weather in the spring.” However, Villa Maria, at Mangere, reported “an excellent start to the season, with uniform budburst and flowering.”
At the start of summer, December was warmer and drier than normal, in both Auckland and Northland. The pattern of above-average temperatures continued into January, with well below-average rainfall. On 22 January, NIWA reported “widespread extreme dryness, from northern Waikato up to Northland, reflecting too many dry westerly winds and not enough rain.” Northland kiwi were observed struggling to feed on hard-baked soils, unable to probe the ground for bugs.
On 12 February, an official drought was declared in all areas north of Auckland’s harbour bridge. During the last month of summer, the weather stayed warm and much drier than normal.
Autumn opened with a dry March and average temperatures. Obsidian, on Waiheke Island, reported on 9 March that “picking commenced on 24 February due to veraison [the onset of ripening] occurring roughly two weeks earlier than previous vintages. The season has been exceptionally dry, with a record-breaking 47 days without rain. As a result, there is an abundance of exceptionally high quality, deliciously ripe fruit across all varieties.”
In April, the weather in Auckland stayed much drier than usual, with average temperatures.
On 15 April, Kumeu River reported an early vintage, “dry but not particularly warm. Everything looks great.” Mudbrick enthused: “The reds this year have been mind-blowing!
Fruit was in perfect condition, with concentration not seen on Waiheke since 2013. The Bordeaux varieties (Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot) are black, with intense perfume and structure.”
Unlike Auckland, Gisborne’s growers picked a significantly larger grape crop than in 2019 – up by 17 per cent. At 18, 959 tonnes, Gisborne produced 4.3 per cent of the country’s harvest in 2020, with Chardonnay (8770 tonnes) the principal variety, followed by Sauvignon Blanc (4376 tonnes) and Pinot Gris (4322 tonnes.)
In spring, September was dry, with average temperatures. October saw normal warmth and higher than usual rainfall, followed by a hot (2.1^C above normal), slightly drier than usual November. Villa Maria reported that “warm and settled weather over the late spring flowering period produced healthy yields.”
Overall, summer was warm and dry. A warm, slightly wet December was followed by a warm, dry January (with half the normal rainfall) and a dry, hot February (with temperatures averaging 1.9^C above average.)
Autumn began with a cool, dry March. On 11 March, James Millton reported the “2020 vintage is amazing, such good conditions… Today we harvested the Clos de Ste Anne Viognier and again, I am amazed with the quality.”
After a warm, far drier than usual April, Villa Maria reported its “earliest Gisborne vintage to date. Excellent Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer wines have been produced, but undoubtedly the shining stars from our Gisborne vineyards are once again Chardonnay and Albarino.”
Lovers of red wine and Chardonnay should expect some striking Hawke’s Bay wines from 2020. “The Hawke’s Bay 2019-20 growing season was slightly cooler than the last four seasons… but still above the long-term average,” noted Nick Picone, group chief winemaker for Villa Maria. He described 2020 as “considerably drier to the point of drought, reminding me of another great Hawke’s Bay vintage – 2013.”
At 43, 247 tonnes of grapes, the Hawke’s Bay crop was 16 per cent heavier than in 2019, accounting for 9.8 per cent of the national harvest. Sauvignon Blanc (12,422 tonnes) was the variety most commonly harvested, followed by Merlot (10,525 tonnes), Chardonnay (6987 tonnes), Pinot Gris (6058 tonnes), Pinot Noir (2070 tonnes) and Syrah (2057 tonnes.)
In spring, a warm September with above-average rainfall was followed by a wetter than usual October with normal temperatures. November, however, was drier and much hotter than usual, with temperatures at Napier Aero averaging 2.1^C above normal.
Villa Maria reported that “with a few hurdles in spring, including frost and hailstorms, Hawke’s Bay was off to a nervous start. Unfortunately, the hail did impact some of our growers…” Other reports surfaced that some early-budding varieties in the Bridge Pa Triangle sub-region were wiped out by October hail.
Summer proved favourably warm and dry. December saw average rainfall and well above-average temperatures, followed by a slightly warmer than average, dry January. In February, the NIWA station at Napier Aero recorded far less than usual rainfall and average temperatures 2.1^C above normal.
In autumn, a dry, slightly cooler than average March was followed by a warm, notably dry April. On 9 April, Nicholas Buck, CEO of Te Mata Estate, described 2020 as “probably the greatest vintage” in his experience, “with an early start and early finish. Even better than 2019.”
There were some cautionary notes. Rob MacCulloch, at a large contract winery, reported a “heavy” Merlot crop, and that the drought caused some vineyards to have “pretty stressed vines and fruit, with low sugars and plummeting acids.”
However, on 4 May, Bilancia reported that the growing season had been “textbook perfect, dry (but we can work with that) and warm (but not too hot, so great flavour development.) After picking Chardonnay from its la collina vineyard on 2 March, two weeks earlier than usual, Bilancia winemaker Warren Gibson stated it was “the best Chardonnay I have seen in all my vintages in Hawke’s Bay.” The first Syrah from la collina was harvested on 28 March, “in beautiful condition; perfect flavour and ripeness.”
Roger Parkinson, of Nga Waka winery, summarized Martinborough’s vintage in June 2020. “Temperature records show a pretty typical year with … no extended or extreme hot spells. The real story of the growing season is the rainfall and the extended dry period from late December until mid-March… Quality is outstanding, with bright, concentrated flavours in the white varieties and rosé, and remarkable colour, texture and depth of flavour in the Pinot Noir.”
At 4472 tonnes, the Wairarapa region’s grape crop was slightly bigger than 2019 (up two per cent), constituting just one per cent of the country’s total harvest. Pinot Noir (2067 tonnes) and Sauvignon Blanc (1771 tonnes) dominated, followed distantly by Pinot Gris (279 tonnes) and Chardonnay (200 tonnes.)
Spring began with a cool, dry September, followed by a cool, wet October and dry, warm November (temperatures at Martinborough were 2.2^C above average.) “The season began with a wonderful flowering,” reported the regional organization, Wairarapa Wine, “producing even berry and bunch size not seen for some time.”
Summer started with a warm, dry December and a dry January with average temperatures. In February, the rainfall stayed well below normal and temperatures soared – 2.2^C above average in Martinborough.
In autumn, the weather proved variable. Masterton, in the northern Wairarapa, received 303 per cent its normal rainfall in March, but very little rain in April. At Martinborough, temperatures were above average in both March and April.
“2020 was an incredible vintage,” says Dry River. Wairarapa Wine described 2020 as “one of the most favourable Pinot Noir seasons in many years. The resulting wines show deep colour, pure varietal flavours and great tannin structure.”
After a cool, dry season, Nelson winegrowers harvested 11,572 tonnes of grapes (six per cent less than in 2019), accounting for 2.6 per cent of the total New Zealand harvest. Sauvignon Blanc dominated the crop (7868 tonnes), followed distantly by Pinot Gris (1224 tonnes), Pinot Noir (1040 tonnes) and Chardonnay (750 tonnes.)
Spring had a wetter than normal start during September and October, with average warmth. However, in November, temperatures climbed to an average of 1.0^C above normal, with slightly below-average rainfall.
In summer, a warm but wet December was followed by warm, dry conditions in January and February. “We had a nice, gentle incline clicking up through the warm summer months,” reported Kina Cliffs, “watching the regular sunshine and low rainfall create beautifully ripe and healthy grapes with lovely flavour.”
In autumn, a cool, dry March was followed by a similarly dry April, with average warmth. Seifried reported “another early and very condensed vintage,” with “beautiful, clean fruit.”
Blackenbrook enthused that “the quality of the fruit we have harvested is right up with the very best we have ever had…”
“For overall fruit quality, this is one of the best vintages I have experienced,” enthused Ivan Sutherland, co-founder of Dog Point Vineyard, on 20 April 2020. At 343,036 tonnes of grapes (12 per cent more than in 2019), the Marlborough crop accounted for a whopping 77.7 per cent of the national harvest.
Sauvignon Blanc (295,301 tonnes) was by far the most common variety, trailed distantly by Pinot Noir (20,027 tonnes), Pinot Gris (13,494 tonnes), Chardonnay (9793 tonnes) and Riesling (2246 tonnes.) Rob Agnew, of Plant & Food Research (Marlborough), noted that temperatures over the growing season were cooler than in 2019 and 2018, but still well above the long-term average.
Dryness was a crucial factor. From 21 December to 18 April, Marlborough recorded less than a quarter of its normal rainfall. “But despite the very dry conditions, vines fared far better than in the summer of 2019, which saw crippling water stress in some vineyards,” reported Agnew. “The main difference was a big dump of rain between 16 and 20 December 2019, which ensured plants, soils and waterways were more resilient to the subsequent dry patch.”
Due to the dry weather, the individual berries were much smaller than average, and bunch numbers were down too. However, Agnew also observed that “warm weather in late November and early December 2019 saw excellent flowering for Sauvignon Blanc, so berry numbers were well up on average, resulting in final yields being average, or close to it.”
In spring, September brought normal temperatures and above-average rainfall, followed by a cool, dry October. November, however, was drier than usual and markedly warmer – temperatures at Blenheim Aero were 1.7^C above normal. Villa Maria reported “an excellent berry set.”
Summer started with a cool, damp December, followed by a cool, very dry January. Bush fires in Australia “influenced the weather for the month of January quite substantially,” according to Hans Herzog Estate, “with the smog cooling down temperatures quite a bit.” February, however, was a lot warmer and drier than normal, with temperatures at Blenheim Aero 1.6^C above the long-term average.
In early autumn, March was cooler and much drier than usual – allowing the grapes to ripen without major disease pressures – and April was favourably warm and dry. On 22 April, Jules Taylor reported: “The continual mild, dry conditions meant that the fruit harvested was in perfect condition.”
“Overall, the quality is good,” declared John Forrest on 15 April. “It’s been a disease-free harvest.” Hans Herzog was highly enthusiastic. “All the late-ripening varieties loved the dry and beautiful Indian Summer and performed extremely well with great physiological ripeness… The dryness made for small berries with less – but extremely concentrated -juice.”
“2020 looks set to be recognized as an exceptional year,” declared Pegasus Bay, after the earliest-ever vintage at Waipara. At 9,861 tonnes, North Canterbury’s grape crop was 19 per cent heavier than in 2019, accounting for 2.1 per cent of the national harvest. In volume terms, Sauvignon Blanc was the principal variety (3733 tonnes), followed by Pinot Gris (1986 tonnes), Pinot Noir (1933 tonnes) and Riesling (1508 tonnes.)
In spring, a warm, dry September and cool October were followed by a hot November (The Bone Line reported its hottest November on record.) “The shoots got away to a good start and were untouched by frost,” reported Pegasus Bay. “Weather over flowering was warm and still, leading to a plentiful set and a potentially bumper crop. Accordingly, we thinned the crop heavily.”
Summer began with dry, slightly warmer than normal conditions in December and January, followed by a dry, much warmer than average February. “Summer was hot and dry,” declared Pegasus Bay, “giving us optimally ripened grapes in beautiful condition.”
In early autumn, March was “cold”, reported The Bone Line, “giving the vines a break and slowing ripening.” March saw “well above normal” rainfall in North Canterbury, according to NIWA, with heavy rain during 28-30 March. April, however, brought a return to dry weather, with above-average temperatures.
“North Canterbury had its earliest-ever harvest,” observed Black Estate, at Waipara. “The fruit is absolutely beautiful and delicious… We are seeing really clean, gorgeous little bunches.” Mountford Estate declared: “The quality of the 2020 vintage wine will be superb. I can guarantee this.”
“The wines have a real vibrancy and true concentration,” reported The Bone Line, which was “truly excited” about its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and praised its Chardonnay and Riesling as “really great.”
“You certainly won’t hear anyone in Central Otago pronouncing this as the ‘vintage of the century’,” declared Misha’s Vineyard on 22 April. “Overall it has been a cool and wet season.”
At 8515 tonnes of grapes, Central Otago’s crop was 28 per cent less than 2019, accounting for just 1.9 per cent of the national harvest. At 114 tonnes, the harvest in the Waitaki Valley, North Otago, was tiny – but still 180 per cent heavier than in 2019. Pinot Noir dominated the crop in Central Otago, with 6469 tonnes, followed by Pinot Gris (1084 tonnes), Riesling (350 tonnes), Sauvignon Blanc (262 tonnes) and Chardonnay (244 tonnes.)
In spring, a dry, warm September and cool, damp October were followed by a warm November – temperatures at Cromwell were 1.6^C above average. Grasshopper Rock, at Alexandra, reported “an average spring season”, with “some hard early frosts and a surprise hail storm [on 16 November], but nothing to impact on quality.”
Summer opened with a cold, windy, wet December (causing “some unevenness in fruit set”, noted Terra Sancta, at Bannockburn), followed by a dry January with average temperaturesand wet, moderately warm February. On 10 March, Ceres, at Bannockburn, said the harvest was running 10 days to two weeks late.
In autumn, March temperatures at Cromwell plunged to 1.7^C below normal, followed by a colder than usual April. On 21 April, Maori Point, at Tarras, reported its crop levels were down by 20 to 40 per cent. Winemaker Matt Evans noted: “There is much more millerandage [bunches with berries varying greatly in size and maturity] than we normally see.”
However, in terms of quality, Misha’s Vineyard reported that “achieving sugar ripeness with lower yields was relatively easy and the cooler temperatures saw higher acidity retained.” Chard Farm was decidedly upbeat, declaring 2020 to be “an excellent vintage. The reduced crops produced some exciting wines. We brought in very clean, aromatic fruit, similar to 2017, with good acids, sugars and concentration.”