Warming region brings bud burst early

File photo.

Record-breaking winter temperatures have triggered early budburst for some grape growers.

Plant and Food Research scientist Rob Agnew says last month was the fifth warmest August since records began.

And some early variety grapes are already starting to burst ahead of schedule.

Data shows Blenheim’s winter temperatures have markedly warmed over the past few decades.

But grape growers aren’t too worried, with one hoping the early start will translate to an early harvest.

Grower Ben McLauchlan says the “real, real early” bud burst is just “nature taking its course”.

“It’s one of those things,” he says. “We’ve got frost machines.”

“Investment in frost protection is critical.”

Rob says the three winter months in 2020, June, July and August, recorded well above average mean temperatures.

“The mean winter air temperature of 9.5 degrees Celsius was 0.9 degrees Celsius warmer than the LTA [long term average].

“The winter of 2020 is now the second warmest winter on record for Blenheim.”

Grower Dave Trolove has chardonnay grapes starting to show some bud movement at his vineyard at the bottom of Waihopai Rd.

“It’s been pretty dry and warm the last couple of months, which could bring it [bud burst] forward.

“But it only takes a couple cold spells to slow things down again,” Dave says.

He says bud burst is probably a bit earlier, but in the southern valleys the season usually starts a bit later.

“Growers can’t afford to worry too much,” he says.

Rob says Blenheim’s winters are now far warmer than they were in the mid-20th century.

“23 ground frosts were recorded over winter, compared to the LTA of 37.3.

“This is the lowest total number of winter ground frosts recorded in Blenheim over the 89 years 1932 to 2020.”

The record low number of frosts doesn’t mean mother nature doesn’t have another in store.

“Those early varieties, the chardonnay and pinot, you’re never out of frosts when they come through,” Ben says.

Rainfall is also lacking in the region, with hoped for heavy winter falls not materialising.

“Total rainfall for the 8-months January to August 2020 is 269.8 mm,” Rob says.

“This is the fourth lowest January to August rainfall total on record for Blenheim for the 91 years 1930 to 2020.

“As signalled in the last couple of months, Blenheim needed well above average rainfall over winter in order to make up for the lack of rainfall earlier in 2020.

“This hasn’t happened, and many soil types will still be below field capacity going into the spring.”

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