2005 Wine grape harvest about quality, not quantity

The industry is particularly excited about the quality of this year's red wine grapes, while the whites indicate good tropical flavours.

According to the official harvest report from SAWIS (the business chamber of the South African Wine and Brandy company responsible for trade information), it was initially thought that the harvest was going to exceed last year's. However, it gradually became clear that the drought was going to take its toll. 

The 2005 wine-grape harvest was 11,8% smaller than in 2004 and it weighed in at 1 157 631 tonnes.

The harvest was markedly smaller in the Worcester/Breedekloof- and Robertson-regions -- figures were 19% and 16% lower, respectively. In Stellenbosch the harvest was more or less the same as last year.

SAWIS stressed how the 2004/2005-harvest year placed great demands on wine producers. Vineyards budded earlier than 2003 as a result of a warm spring. Lush growth occurred after thunderstorms and rain in October.

As a result of the lush growth, grape bunches were looser and smaller than usual. Sun damage was limited as there were fewer heat waves despite the drought.

As a result of high humidity in November and December and less wind - southeast and other - botrytis fungus caused harvest loss. Vineyards were however relatively disease-free and no significant problems were experienced, except for insect plagues in regions around Stellenbosch and Paarl.

The harvest came in earlier than other years - up to four weeks earlier - with many cultivars that ripened simultaneously at the beginning of each season. 

2005 seems to be a better year for red wine, with a lovely colour among all the cultivars.

The harvest has yielded some good quality white wine. As a result of the smaller yield there will probably be a shortage of good quality Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc-wines later this year - this, in the midst of a general shortage of white wines.

This shortage is expected especially as a result of poor pickings in the Worcester/Breedekloof-region, that usually boasts the country's biggest harvests. 
This year's harvest in the region was 274 993 tonnes - 19,3% smaller than 2004, mainly as a result of very poor berry development.

According to Dr Johan van Rooyen, chief executive of the SAWB, the reduced harvest once again underlined the fact that in South Africa, there can be no talk of a so-called 'wine lake'.

'We are subject to the dynamics of nature and changing local and international market forces,' van Rooyen said. 'Wine supplies should therefore be managed so that they can be released during lean years, such as this one.'

The following comment on this year's harvest was received from important wine regions.


Meyer Joubert, Joubert-Tradauw: 'The Klein Karoo is a wonderful place for wine-grapes, because it virtually never rains during harvest. This year was different because it never stopped raining, especially in the Tradouw valley. We had our hands full with containing fungi, and Botrytis was widespread. The early white grape varieties held up very well, under the circumstances, but red grapes lost colour and flavour. However, some tanks still look and taste promising, especially from vineyards that were established on well-drained slopes.'

Olifants River

Pieter du Toit, Cederberg Private Cellar: 'The harvest had to start a full two weeks earlier as a result of the warm, dry weather. Early cultivars such as Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc look promising - we could press almost everything before the warm weather in mid-February. Late ripening Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were only pressed by end March, and the quality is above average. The smaller harvest (20% less red en 15% less white) resulted in small grapes with beautiful concentrated flavours, and dark colours in the red cultivars. We are definitely going to have to bottle less wine in order to maintain the same quality as previous years.'


Anthony de Jager, Fairview: 'It was a difficult season. Just before we harvested the Sauvignon Blanc we had a 42°C heat wave that caused stress on the vineyards. This was immediately followed by 60 to 80 millimetres rain, meaning we had to wait for the moisture to dry while the sugar levels rose drastically, so we were under pressure to start picking. In general, it was an extended season with a smaller, but healthy harvest.'


Pieter Ferreira, Graham Beck Wines: 'It was a difficult harvest, not easy at all. We struggled to achieve a phenolic ripeness in the late Cabernets. Our white harvest is 25% smaller as a result of botrytis. On the positive side: the basis wine for our Cap Classique is world class this year. The Chardonnay looks like medium-potential, although at this stage it seems quite elegant, as is the case with the Viognier. Shiraz seems quite good to very good. The Cabernets are somewhat disappointing.'


Johann Krige: Kanonkop: 'Kanonkop's harvest is about 20% smaller than last year, but the quality is superb, because the grapes ripened slowly as a result of good rains in January.'

Eben Archer, Distell: 'We are very happy with the red harvest on all the Lusan farms, and the white wines that stand out are really exceptionally beautiful. We were saved by the rain at the end of February and beginning of March.'


Abé Beukes, Darling Cellars: 'This year was once again a year of diversity. It is a soft but drinkable harvest year, but don't try and age the bottles five or ten years. I am satisfied with the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinotage because they came in relatively early, before the rains. The Chenins got a bit of a knock; their pH is relatively high with low acidity. They drink easy but they won't necessarily last. I've tasted a few beautiful Chardonnays from this region, and there are few very good Merlots. This region is still so positive for Shiraz! Even if you expect a weaker wine, it still comes through strong. Our Shiraz this year is elegant, but full - not watery at all. The harvest is down about 10% in size but we had planned it that way because of pressure on wine prices.'


Pieter Carstens, Slanghoek Cellars: 'Although the 2005 harvest year will be remembered as a very dry season, the cellars this year received exceptional grapes and we are able to make exceptionally rich full-bodied red wines and fruity white wines. In the beginning of the season the dam's water levels were high enough for the growth season, although the ground table was low. This allowed wine producers to control grain size and to ensure a better husk-to-juice ratio. As a result of the dry weather there were fewer diseases, and spraying was reduced considerably. Because optimal ripeness was achieved early in the season, our season was shorter than usual and yielded grapes with good chemical composition.

The complete harvest report can be found on http://www.sawis.co.za/.

Issued by Mediavision on behalf of the South African Wine & Brandy Company