Following Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand Winemakers Assess Damage, Prepare for Harvest

Two weeks after Cyclone Gabrielle devastated the North Island of New Zealand, residents are still assessing the destruction. The storm is already considered the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere, with damages estimated to be upward of $8 billion. The cyclone, which killed at least 11 people, hit the farming and winegrowing regions of the North Island particularly hard.

For winemakers in areas such as Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, the timing could hardly be worse. Harvest is just weeks away. Some vineyards were flooded, and in certain areas, tons of mud carried by the waters buried vines and pushed into buildings, leaving bottles and equipment trapped under heavy muck.

But many New Zealand winemakers aren’t eager to put the spotlight on their losses. “We feel that the loss of life and destruction to homes and personal businesses is so much bigger than the wine story,” said Warren Gibson, winemaker at Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay. His somber tone is consistent among the island’s winegrowing community—some winemakers are reluctant to go on the record to report damage, focusing instead on the loss of human life and damages to their communities.


A tropical cyclone is an organized, rotating storm system that originates over warm tropical or subtropical waters. Known as hurricanes in the northern Atlantic and typhoons in the northwestern Pacific, the storms are cyclones in the Indian and southwestern Pacific oceans and are just as deadly. New Zealand is no stranger to storms, but Gabrielle was especially dangerous.

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While vintners were aware the cyclone was en route, no one could have predicted the volume of water that came with Gabrielle—all days before harvest was expected to begin. The total rainfall was between 14 and 18 inches, which included a 24-hour period of downpours, from Feb. 13 to 14, that saw more than three times as much rain as the February average.

The cyclone comes after a January storm that caused widespread flooding. Gabrielle’s high winds and waters washed away coastal roads and destroyed bridges, while landslides created more damage. On Feb. 14, the country declared a national state of emergency for just the third time in its history. Early estimates are that 10,000 New Zealand residents were left homeless in the wake of Gabrielle. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called the cyclone the country’s “biggest natural disaster” of the 21st century.

Nick Picone, chief winemaker at Sacred Hill in Hawkes Bay, reports that approximately 200 acres of Sacred Hill’s vines were “catastrophically affected.” He says it’s unknown how much of those grapes will be harvestable.

“Some vineyards have been lost completely under silt, like our Dartmoor vineyard,” explained Picone. “Approximately 37 acres there have gone completely under and will not be recoverable. This was Sacred Hill’s first vineyard, which was planted in the 1980s. The costs and benefits of trying to recover versus replanting must be carefully considered.”

[article-img-container][src=2023-03/ns_dartmoor_1600.jpg] [credit=(Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)] [alt=Dartmoor vines] [end: article-img-container]

The New Zealand Herald reports that winemaker Philip Barber, using a shovel, dug out 12,000 bottles of wine at Petane Wines in Esk Valley. The wine was stuck in a storage room behind nearly 10 feet of silt and mud. The bottles will be tested to make sure the wine is ok and hopefully auctioned off to recoup costs.

Harvest in a disaster zone

The surrounding devastation is another factor, with winemakers unable to reach some vineyards or move equipment. “We are also…

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Following Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand Winemakers Assess Damage, Prepare for Harvest  
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