The 2016 vintage is all but over, with the last varieties being harvested now.
Cider makers say this year’s vintage is a very good one right across the country. Paynter's Cider’s Paul Paynter says, “the crop is generally excellent. Here in Hawke’s Bay, grapes have been affected by late humidity and the reds are showing some rot. But thankfully apples aren’t susceptible to humidity late – it only affects colour and that is of no concern to cider apples.”
Jody Scott from Zeffer Cider says apples are still being picked this week. “The 2016 harvest has seen excellent fruit quality throughout the regions. Hawke’s Bay in particular has had another exceptional year with a good-sized crop and first-rate fruit. Challenges included a drier season received in Canterbury and humidity in Auckland.”
In Upper Moutere, Tasman, Peckham’s cider apple orchard also had a good vintage. Alex Peckham estimates it has processed almost one million apples so far this season – “If there are eight apples in a kilogram, and we’ve processed 100 tonnes, that’s 800,000 apples I’ve been looking at on the conveyor belt in the past two months.”
Alex says bulk cider makers do not get good or bad vintages because they use eating apples bought on the open market. Specialist cider makers, though, use cider apples and so different years produce different results. “We only use tree-ripened fruit and so we get different vintages.”
“The brix level is slightly down this year – that’s not a bad thing necessarily because the fruit is looking really ripe, it’s in good condition and there’s a good crop. Bi-annualism is very common in cider apples (on/off years) and quite a few of our varieties had an on year this year.
“We had a relatively slow start to the season with a really nice cold winter and a cool spring, so flowering was late and it looked as though the whole season was going to be later than it was last year. Then we had a really warm end to summer, the ripening accelerated and the harvest dates are almost the same as last year.
“We were really lucky here because it looked like we were going to get really bad drought, but every time it dried up we had a few timely downpours. We were lucky – there was hail damage in this area but we escaped it.
“This year we were continuing to push the boundaries on harvesting. We left the fruit on the trees to ripen more and more as we get confident, and that improves the quality. Overall we’ve had a really good year. We’ve got really good flavour and hopefully that comes out in the cider.”