Omicron adds to winegrowers' anxieties as they battle weather, staff shortages

Hot, dry weather and many helping hands are two key ingredients for a good wine harvest - but some winegrowers are still patiently waiting for both.

Omicron has added another layer of anxiety to this year's vintage as winegrowers get by without international experts and try to retain enough staff to get through.

The most crucial time of the winegrowing year has coincided with the country's peak of COVID-19 and isolation.

"We're going to finish our harvest here tomorrow so it looks like we've dodged a bullet, and it looks like we're going to make it," Kumeu River Wines vineyard director Milan Brajkovich says.

Despite a few staff needing to isolate, Kumeu River Wines managed to find just enough hands.

"[We're] tired but happy," Brajkovich says.

But as the wave of infections is expected to move south, winegrowers in North Canterbury are holding their breath. Rain and humidity have already left their mark, bringing in powdery mildew, and pushing out Black Estate's harvest right in time for the peak of Omicron to arrive. 

"Yield will be slightly lower, but we won't know until we see how the next few weeks play out," says Black Estate winemaker Nicholas Brown.

"Fingers crossed we can get to the last few weeks for harvest and bring in some really beautiful fruit."

Bubbles and social distancing only go so far when protecting our fifth biggest goods export.

"We've got people having to isolate if they test positive, so that means a reduction in team members," Brown says.

From teams that are already missing important international workers.

"The biggest issue we've had is getting people to harvest," Brajkovich says.

Normally experienced vintage workers from the Northern Hemisphere come to New Zealand to help with critical tasks.

"It means we've got a less experienced workforce that effectively has got the threat of COVID, Omicron hanging over top, so there's a lot of nervous winemakers out there," NZ Wine CEO Philip Gregan says.

Winemakers are hopeful there's a lot of really nice fruit on their vines. That'll be something to calm the nerves.