A third of New Zealand's Hawkes Bay Chardonnay has been lost due to unseasonably late frosts.

Mal McLennan of Hawkes Bay Grapegrowers Association said three widespread frosts in quick succession was ‘pretty grim and probably unprecedented.’

Craggy Range manager Steve Smith told decanter.com that the damage ‘was isolated to one block of Chardonnay in our Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, causing a 30% reduction in crop.’

‘We normally don’t have to protect against these frosts and this was an unusually strong frost in a very advanced year for the vine, ‘ he said.

Sacred Hill’s Tony Bish attributed the situation ‘in part due to a very early bud-burst, exposing the vines to cold early spring weather associated with an El Nino climatic pattern.’

While winemakers adopt ‘a wait and see’ attitude, the overall loss has been estimated at 25-30% of chardonnay, which made up 7,400 tonnes of the region’s 25,600 tonne harvest last year.

‘The extent of the damage cannot really be ascertained until the flowering period has been reached,’ Kim Crawford said.

Anna-Barbara Helliwell of Unison Vineyards said, ‘We have been battling the frost in the vineyards – unfortunately all effort was for nothing – we lost 95%.’

Reduced yields of other early varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are also anticipated.

Written by Tracey Barker10 October 2002