While harvest 2014 is well into its stride in Stellenbosch, Paarl and surrounds, further south things are either just getting underway or will do so within the next two weeks.
As was reported for the above areas, winter was cold and wet, with a delayed spring, leading to later bud burst. Two downpours, one in November, the other in January, led to high disease pressure and vigour. Timely attention to detail in the vineyards ‘will sort the men from the boys’ is an oft repeated phrase across the Cape winelands.
Despite the inauspicious January rain “as well as unusually high humidity, the fruit is looking much healthier than anticipated”, reports Richard Kershaw MW of Richard Kershaw Wines. He anticipates harvesting pinot noir towards the end of February, with “chardonnay on course for the first week of March, as it was last year, although it may be a tad later”.
Just down the road at Almenkerk, co-owner/winemaker Joris van Almenkerk succinctly sums up his views on harvest 2014: “Whites are seven to 10 days late but it looks like the reds will catch up. The wet spring meant more disease control; nevertheless, quality looks good!”
James Downes, co-owner of Shannon, is known for his detailed record keeping. What his records show for January is a much warmer month than normal. “The average temperature should be around 20 to 22ºC, so the seven days above 30ºC is not a common phenomenon here.”
The Downes sell fruit to several other producers, as well as having their own label. He reports that all the fruit for Méthode Cap Classique was harvested by 11 February and that tannins in the pinot noir for red wines are softening quickly. He begs Mother Nature for “another 10–15 days of overcast 22ºC, as the grapes are looking great”.
“Wow, it has been a roller coaster ride this season,” exclaims Sebastian Beaumont, winemaker at his family property, Beaumont Wines. “Lovely winter rains, massive end November rains and flooding, and then massive rain and flooding again in early January. Real vigilance has been necessary in the vineyard, keeping an eye on mildew status and making sure that growth wasn’t getting completely out of control.”
He adds that despite rain during flowering, yield pre-harvest looks normal and a positive of the January downpour was that it relieved the stress of veraison in the vines.
By the time this report is posted, Beaumont expects to have started picking chenin blanc. “I am very excited to get things going,” he says. “This year marks our family’s 40th year on the farm; it will be a special vintage for sure.”
Down the N2 at Gabriëlskloof, winemaker Kobie Viljoen has already started harvesting. The first variety into the cellar was sauvignon blanc, giving Viljoen plenty to smile about: “The fruit shows great spectrum of flavour and firm acid.”
Their vineyards’ exposure to both south-easterly and north-westerly winds ensured mildew was kept to a minimum.
In the lowest of the three wards, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ Hannes Storm enthuses about the “very good aromas and remarkably fresh acid” in their sauvignon blanc; first pickings began on 12 February. That said, he admits they’ll have to assess the impact of 260mm and 230mm of rain in November and January respectively. “At this stage, disease pressure is the only result, something we have under control.”
Although Storm reckons harvesting is running a week later than 2013, he anticipates pinot noir will ripen fairly quickly with a very warm weekend forecast, while noting: “Fruit and yields are looking very good with thick skins and good compact bunches.”
In Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, at the opposite, higher end of the valley, JC Martin, c0-owner/winemaker at Creation Wines, gives a brief rundown of his thoughts. “The intermittent rain produced many more weeds and gave us some problems with downy mildew, demanding four extra sprays but treatments were successful and fruit quality is excellent. Excellent canopies and healthy vine growth negate the need for irrigation. Crop size is excellent, except on sauvignon blanc, which was affected by wind during flowering.”
Both chardonnay and pinot noir for bubbly have been picked, with harvesting the main crop anticipated to start around 17 February.
News from these, South Africa’s most southerly vineyards at the toe of the continent itself, comes from Danel Morkel at Black Oystercatcher and Donovan Ackermann at Strandveld.
An area where disease pressure is always high, both men say vine growth is healthy and vigorous with good overall fruit quality. Morkel advises merlot, already harvested for their Méthode Cap Classique, “shows great potential with forthright flavours”.
Ackermann reckoned sauvignon blanc and semillon would be ready by around 14 February, with pinot noir ready the week beginning 17 February. “Yields are down a bit and it’s definitely a late year.”
Barely out of the starting blocks, harvest 2014 looks promising; let’s hope it’s realised when the last grapes have been picked.
– Angela Lloyd