Cape Winemakers Guild Harvest Review 2007

Wines of excellent colour and fruit intensity with high expectations for Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, are forecast in the 2007 Harvest Review of the Cape Winemakers Guild. The review, based on harvest reports by CWG members, all leading winemakers in the major wine growing regions, was presented to key wine buyers and enthusiasts as a run up to the annual CWG Auction in October this year.

"A harvest licensed to thrill" with "sugars going ballistic" during the heat wave, were some of the more colourful descriptions of a harvest that started with a bang in the initial rush to bring in early varietals before the cooler weather slowed down the pace. Getting the timing right was one of the biggest challenges and winemakers who managed to get their early grapes safely into the cellar enjoyed a shorter and more relaxed harvest. With the exception of Sauvignon blanc, most yields were down on last year.

CWG Cellarmaster Charles Hopkins of De Grendel Wines, considers this one of the best Sauvignon blanc years in a long time. "Even with the heat wave taking its toll on the delicate fruit flavours at the start of the harvest, above average wines can be expected this year".

The harvest was preceded by ideal cool growing conditions with rain in spring and early summer producing smaller berries of excellent colour and concentrated fruit. The heat wave affected all regions with varying intensity with early varietals such as Pinotage and Pinot noir taking most of the brunt. Shiraz and Cabernets benefited from the cooling rains in February achieving good tannin structure and balanced ripening.

Growing conditions

Excellent winter conditions with above average rainfall prevailed in most wine growing areas and although there was less snow than in previous years, it was cold enough to ensure a good winter rest period for the vines.

Paarl reported its first good winter rest period in four years and one of the best growing seasons ever with the cool conditions resulting in natural acidity, low pH's along with steady sugar increases, all boding well for a superb year.

A cooler, wet spring resulted in uneven budding and berries at different levels of ripeness requiring winemakers to practice green harvesting halfway through the véraison, the early development stage of the grapes. Shiraz was most affected by variable budding and ripening and required hands on attention in the vineyards in the Paarl and Overberg regions. Niels Verburg of Luddite who approaches winemaking from the premise that "every year is a good year", had to resort to the sorting table for the first time after three "green harvests" to remove unripe berries from his Shiraz grapes. Uneven budding also affected Chardonnay. In the Stellenbosch area, the fruit set (fruit development after the budding stage), was down on previous years for Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc. Poor fruit set was also experienced in Constantia and the Cederberg.

In Durbanville, however, dryland viticulatural practices benefited from the cool spring and early summer resulting in healthy grape production.

Ideal spring conditions prevailed in the Calitzdorp area resulting in healthy vine growth and the development of small, concentrated berries for red wines of outstanding colour and fruit intensity.


Apart from the sudden heat wave towards the end of January that saw temperatures soar to over 40° wreaking havoc with early ripening reds, harvest conditions nomalised with some welcome rain in February and March. In the Paarl region where vineyards ripened up to four weeks earlier than in 2006, the temperature spiked to 48° in the shade on "Bloody Wednesday" during the last week of January. This caused sugars to "go ballistic" and acids to plummet in the space of seven days. Pinot noir and Merlot were most affected by the heat wave.

February rains helped slow down the speedy ripening of later varietals resulting in excellent tannin structure, flavour and acids for Shiraz, Cabernets and Petit Verdot. Big, structured wines, with good colour and outstanding fruit intensity are expected this year as a result of smaller crops and smaller berries. In Franschhoek, the harvest started two weeks earlier and yields are almost all lower than last year. At Boekenhoutskloof, Marc Kent's premium Cabernet blocks are down by at least 50%.

Stellenbosch had one of the earliest harvests ever and the manic rush to bring in the early varietals paid off with promising results. Later varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz benefited from the cooler weather allowing slower ripening. There is general excitement about the whites with great flavours, textures and lower sugars than in previous years. Fabulous fruit characters with accessible tannins can be expected from the reds and blending will be an exciting challenge with the early varietals showing higher acidity as opposed to the later riper, rounder wines.

In the Overberg, ripening normalised after the initial rapid burst resulting in a later harvest than usual. Early ripening grapes from virus free material became a winemaking nightmare for Pinot noir and Pinotage growers as sugar ripeness was reached long before physiological ripeness. Ironically, virus infected material requiring longer ripening on the vine had a slightly better chance of achieving balanced ripeness. Red wines show great depth of colour with profound aroma profiles. Chardonnay yields were below average but the varietal shows excellent potential with great balance, poise and length. The crop size for Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand was excellent this year.

In Durbanville, slow ripening towards the end of the harvest has brought about lower alcohol levels at De Grendel in particular, whilst Semillon and Shiraz stand out as the most promising varieties in the region.

The Cederberg where organic grapes were brought in for the first time this year, had its longest harvest to date, stretching from 31 January to 10 April. Crops were generally low yielding with Chenin blanc and Shiraz showing the most promise.

Pest and disease control

In terms of pest and disease control the harvest was uneventful in most areas with no pests and plagues of biblical proportions reported. Vigilance was, however, required with routine spraying against mildew during the periods of excessive heat and rain. Preventive measures in terms of ant control and the release of predatory wasps yielded good results with mealy bug in Nitida's vineyards in the Durbanville region. Disease control has also been improved dramatically in the Robertson area where the use of modern internet and weather station technology has enabled properties such as Graham Beck to be pro-active to threats of mildew and odium.

Baboons were quite a nuisance in the Overberg and Walker Bay regions where Peter Finlayson discovered that "loud bangs" seemed to keep them at bay. Snails thrived in the cool, moist conditions and the Griers of Villiera have introduced ducks as a remedy.

The prestigious Nedbank CWG Auction of exceptional wines crafted exclusively for the Auction by CWG members, will be held in Somerset West on Saturday, 6 October 2007. For further information visit or call 021-852 0408.

23 April 2007
Issued by: GC Communications 
Contact: Gudrun Clark
PO Box 27203, Rhine Road, Cape Town 8050 South Africa 
Tel: +27 +21-462 0520 Fax: 021-462 0526
On behalf of: Cape Winemakers Guild
Contact: Kate Jonker
P O Box 496 Strand, 7139, South Africa
Tel: +27 +21-852 0408