A rush to pick grapes while clear skies allow may have contributed to more spills on Marlborough roads this harvest, police say.
Wineries have entered their final week of picking in a harvest that has battled through cyclonic weather systems and unseasonal rainfall.
Marlborough highway patrol team leader Sergeant Barrie Greenall said the combination of unpredictable weather and post-quake roading pressures might have played a part in a larger number of reported grape spills on Marlborough roads.
“One would surmise there is pressure on the industry from weather issues,” he said.
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“Everyone is aware it is later in the season and how the weather can be unexpected. It definitely does lead to extra pressures.”
It had not been a good year for grape spills and police had noted a marked increase in callouts related to grape spills, Greenall said.
He said the redirection of traffic flows following the November earthquake may have also had an impact.
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State Highway 63 had seen a massive increase in heavy vehicles since the quake ruled out use of SH1.
“There is a lot of pressure on the roading network. Certainly with the amount of viticultural machinery on State Highway 63 and along the diverted route, especially on Rapaura Rd and Middle Renwick Rd,” he said.
Roundabouts tended to be the major pressure points for agricultural vehicles as drivers misjudged their loads while turning, Greenall said.
There were 45 spills on Marlborough roads in 2016, which cost $23,000 to clean up.
The New Zealand Transport Agency held official figures for grape spills and were approached for comment.
Wine Marlborough chairman Rhyan Wardman said the last grapes of the season would come off the vine this week.
The bulk of grapes had already been picked and it was unknown whether there was a correlation between a sense of urgency to harvest in good weather and the impact on road spills, he said.
“While it has been a challenging harvest, the drivers know to take their time,” he said.
The increase of drivers to SH63 had offered challenges, as had roadworks to resurface part of SH1 in Riverlands, Wardman said.
Vintage was a few weeks a year and road upgrades should be timed better in future, Wardman said
“It’s really unfortunate timing. One would hope for better co-ordination between the roading authorities and impacted businesses,” he said.
The safety of harvest driving was reiterated every season and wineries did their utmost to ensure responsible use on the road, Wardman said.
“The people of Marlborough are very tolerant and it is very much appreciated,” he said.