Harvest during lockdown: Marlborough, New Zealand

Harvest during lockdown: Marlborough, New Zealand

Harvest time in Marlborough can often be challenging, a race against time to gather all the ripe fruit before unpredictable weather sets in. This year was made all the more problematic when, just as producers had begun to harvest, the government announced a Covid-19 related lockdown.

The team at Little Beauty, headed by former Cloudy Bay winemaker Eveline Fraser, have established a reputation for producing elegant, refined and sophisticated wines from their corner of Marlborough. They are blessed with a unique micro-climate, nestled between the Waihopai River and the picturesque Richmond Range, which ensures excellent ripening conditions.

Last week we had the opportunity to catch up with winery owner Fleur McCree to discuss the impact that the current pandemic has had on production within the Marlborough region and the recent 2020 harvest.

She began by describing the initial issues caused by the lockdown...

“It was a very dramatic situation for New Zealand. Harvest was about to start when the government announced New Zealand would go to Level 4 crisis meaning full lockdown and zero social interaction. Only essential businesses were allowed to operate and the wine industry was initially excluded meaning we were not permitted to harvest any grapes. However, our regional body was preparing for this outcome and lobbied with the government to include wine production as an essential business. The government allowed us to do it on the basis that we all adhered to certain conditions. It was a very tense time for everyone in New Zealand involved in the industry.

“Procedures and living conditions needed to change. People couldn’t cross into other ‘communities’. For example, if a husband and wife worked at different wineries, they needed to separate for the duration of the lockdown.”

“Another key issue was that it became problematic to source Personal Protection Equipment like face masks, gloves and sanitiser. However the community pulled together. In our case, a local honey manufacturer converted their factory to producing sanitiser to help out!”

“Planning meetings had to be done at distance or virtually. Key workers were not in the field as much, instead directing operations from home, which isn’t always practical for the wine industry.

“Additionally, many people were worried about their families so didn’t want to work. It was very difficult and at times traumatic.

“All of these factors contributed to a harvest which came at a higher cost – both emotional and economic. However we are grateful to the sacrifice made by all involved and the grapes are now safely in the winery. Our winemaker Eveline has done 22 vintages in Marlborough – she certainly does not want to experience another like this!

Despite the obvious challenges which will face hospitality businesses as the world begins to open up once again, Fleur was also able to see the positives that the current situation may bring to the wine industry in the future.

We have definitely seen much more social media interactions with consumers, which has forced producers to become a lot more conscious of their online presence and content.

“I also think that many people have started to show a lot more interest in food and wine matching. Generally, we have had more time to spend at home with our families and for many, the evening meal has become more of a focus. And in turn, the question of which wine to drink with dinner has been discussed more often than before.

“Additionally, there is no question that there has also been a very positive impact on pollution. Fewer cars, fewer planes. We see more and more stars! This can only be of benefit to the vineyard in the long haul.

“Finally, it has been heart-warming to see some of the restaurants which sell our wines adapting their kitchens to produce meals for the vulnerable and the medical people working the front line. We need more people like these in the world!”

Little Beauty wines are available from our website, where we also have a Little Beauty starter pack of 3 whites and 3 reds for those of you who would like to learn more Marlborough wines.