Getting ready for Harvest 2012

Healthy Grenache during Veraison 26 Jan 2012

Healthy Grenache during Veraison 26 Jan 2012. Note the sandy soils!

The 2012 harvest is rapidly approaching. We expect to start harvesting the first grapes during early February. The first grapes in are normally Chardonnay from the Simonsberg-Paarl vineyards and Pinotage for our Jess Rosè, also from our Simonsberg-Paarl vineyard. The harvest will most likely end in April, with Cabernet Sauvignon from our Elgin vineyards; thus a long harvest window if the weather does not change dramatically.

At present we are optimistic about both the quality and quantity of the 2012 harvest, but berry sorting will significantly reduce the volume of grapes reaching the fermenters. We had a cold winter in 2011, cool spring and cool early summer. The first real heat waves hit in mid January. While some areas are concerned about rainfall and water reserves, we fortunately received sufficient rains during winter and spring.

Our major concerns at present are re some sunburn damage and the unevenness of some cultivar’s bunches, due to volatile weather conditions in the late spring. The photo on the right shows a Grenache bunch with both raisin berries from sunburn during last week’s heatwave, as well as uneven berry development.

Small unripe berries, premature raisin berries, rotten berries and MOG (matter other than grapes) such as leaves, small pieces of stem as well as a lot of pips, will be rejected during the berry sorting process. The toughest tannins come from the stems and pips, so quality of the resultant wine goes up! See Below.

Pinotage Reject Matter Harvest 2011

Pinotage Reject Matter Harvest 2011

The automatic berry sorting machine will have to work hard and earn its keep this harvest. I am sure Susan and Ansone are both very happy that we have the Pellenc Selectiv in place to ensure that raisins and unripe, small berries do not make it into the winery! The quality improvement from the first full harvest using the automatic sorting machine in 2011 has been significant.

We have a few new cultivars and vineyards coming into production this harvest. The first Grenache Noir grapes from the 2.5Ha (6.25 acres) block planted on Vrede en Lust in 2009. The vineyard was planted in a sandy, old riverbed section of the farm, in order to help tame Grenache’s natural vigor. Excess vigor is bad for quality grape production. Susan and Ans will have new options with Grenache as cultivar.

The Grenache vineyard has established itself well and Etienne’s team have had to drop at least 50% of the first crop, in order to help protect the younger vines. We will harvest every second bunch for potential use as rosè component, leaving the other bunches to enjoy extra hang time for red wine production.

In Elgin we have the Merlot and Cabernet Franc blocks planted in 2008, now coming into first production. Both blocks are only 1Ha (2.5 acres) in extent and planted along the warmer, north facing Bokkeveldt Skalie (an ancient shale) slopes. The soils have a 70% gravel content, are very deep and it takes the vines longer establish themselves. Once their roots get down to rock beds with more water retention, they take off. We expect small maiden crops from both these blocks, similar to the maiden harvest of 1.5 tons Casey’s Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon last year.

I am very excited about the quality of the 4 barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2011 harvest. Bright red fruit, elegant, no green characters and very smooth tannins. If the Merlot and Cab Franc develop in similar style and quality, we will have some really exceptional grapes to work with in the cellar.

There has recently been a lot (two Grape blogs, Pendock, Eedes et al) written about the green character in some Cape Bordeaux style red wines, due to elevated levels of 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine (or IBMP),  resulting in Cabernet Sauvignon with an excessive ‘green’ character.

Hats off to Charles Hopkins from De Grendel for highlighting this important issue and also for giving the local wine press something really useful to write about. It is going to be interesting to see how winemakers tackle issue this harvest. I suspect lots of IBMP level tests running through the labs right now!

Looking out over the Casey's Ridge vineyard in Elgin towards the Palmiet river and Kogelberg mountains

Looking out over the Casey's Ridge vineyard in Elgin towards the Palmiet river and Kogelberg mountains

The interesting fact, is that Elgin’s degree days (at around 1,500) or heat summation (pg 35) is closer to Bordeaux’s degree days (mid 1,400’s) than any other  major region in South Africa, with a lot of summer cloud cover due to the South Easterly winds. Obviously the meso climates will vary depending on a number of factors such as proximity to the cold oceans, other large water bodies, elevation, slopes etc.

While Elgin’s early acclaim has come from the high quality white wines from wineries like Paul Cluver and Iona, I suspect that in the medium term, the real game changers will come from Elgin red wines, especially where the right soils have been carefully matched to the correct grape cultivars, clones and rootstocks. Our near-neighbor Shannon, a bit higher up the Palmiet river, has already surprised wine critics internationally with their Mount Bullet Merlot.