Early Harvest Report 2008

Early reports from some of the main regions (listed alphabetically) are as follows:


Steenberg, at the southern end of the valley, started harvesting on 4th February, two weeks later than last year. The first grapes, pinot noir, were destined for Cap Classique sparkling wine. Some sauvignon blanc followed two days later. The recent rains have resulted in some fungal disease but, overall, fruit concentration is very good and ripeness is being reached at lower alcohols.


Only two producers, De Grendel and Diemersdal, have started harvesting. According to De Grendel's Charles Hopkins, `the first sauvignon blancs which came in during the second week of February, are looking really stunning. It's early days yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic.'  So far, the rain has had no effect on the crop.


Cap Classique producers, Graham Beck and Cabrière, harvested the first chardonnay between 10 days and two weeks later than in 2007, the former taking in the first grapes on 19th January.

The von Arnim's at Cabrière mention the cool summer with ample rain supports slower ripening and leaves the vines still a fresh green.

Graham Beck cellarmaster, Pieter Ferreira, says the subsequent rain has presented a challenge but with the team's experience, tasting ability and modern technology, is confident of quality 2008 wines.

For winemakers Morne Landman of La Couronne, and Dustin Osborne of Mont Rochelle, whose early pickings include sauvignon blanc, the cooler, wet spells delayed ripening; rain also increased disease pressures from Powdery mildew and botrytis. The biggest challenge will be to pick fully ripe grapes that are also healthy. More positively, Landman reports excellent chardonnay with reds also looking promising.

More unusually, shiraz was the first variety in the cellar at Solms-Delta; this for their new Lambrusco-style Cape Jazz Shiraz, where low alcohol is required. Winemaker, Hilko Hegewisch believes the rain and cooler days, which slowed down the ripening, are positive developments.

Glenwood's DP Burger faces a situation that others will doubtless have to cope with: everything ripening together. He anticipates chardonnay, shiraz, merlot and semillon being picked this week. Apart from a little rot in the semillon, Burger is happy with quality.


Harvesting in this south coast area also started significantly later than 2007; by 3rd February last year, Anthony Hamilton Russell, of Hamilton Russell Vineyards confirms that 90% of the pinot noir was harvested. This year, the first grapes, sauvignon blanc, came in on 6th February. Despite the cool, wet and humid conditions which have prevailed so far, he is confident fungal disease is well under control, sugars are picking up steadily and the sauvignons show wonderful acidity and flavour.

Marc van Halderen, winemaker at the new La Vierge winery, notes lower crops in white vineyards but bunches look good and have powerful flavours.  Managing botrytis and other fungal growth remains the challenge. Chardonnay for his Cap Classique came in on 29th January, a week to 10 days later than usual.

Gordon Newton Johnson, cellarmaster at the family winery reports a diminished crop after hail in October 2007 but says there's little rot. On the whole, he finds the year similar to 1997, with only three days exceeding 30ºC.

Newton Johnson describes the flavours in their maiden crop of home-grown pinot noir as 'absolutely gorgeous'; like the others, he notes great flavours in the sauvignon blancs. 


Summer rain has fallen in even this semi-arid region. Apart from Calitzdorp which experienced a few problems, the rain has had minimal effect, at least on the first intake of grapes, which were harvested the first week in February. These made up quite a mix: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, white muscat, chenin blanc as well as tinta barocca and touriga nacional for the area's renowned Port-style wines.


Harvesting in this large west coast area began on 14th January with chardonnay. Vinpro consultant, Jeff Joubert reports overall quality of whites is mainly average, but the reds are above average to really good.


One of the dangers posed by rain in grapes well on the way to ripeness is dilution of flavours. Backsberg reports that their vineyards were not overly stressed before the rain, so the vines are less likely to take up the water resulting in this negative effect.

To combat fungal rot, excess leaves from underneath and within the canopy are being removed; in this way, the wind will dry off moisture without over exposing the grapes to the sun.

Phil Freese and Zelma Long of Vilafonté picked their first grapes, some malbec, on 13th February. Freese reports ripeness at lower sugars and ripe, rich tannins are the hallmark of 2008.


Like their coastal neighbours, wine farmers in this inland area started harvesting around 10 days later than usual. Neither has it escaped untimely rain, which for some requires money and effort to combat mildew and botrytis. Philip Jonker of Weltevrede takes a more positive view, rejoicing that the rain cleaned the grapes, which have remained pretty healthy. He anticipates the harvest starting in earnest this week.

Irene Waller, winemaker at Graham Beck, comments that chardonnay for the Cap Classique base wine was harvested on 16th January at lower sugars but with excellent flavours.

Van Loveren's Danelle van Rensburg not only started harvesting the day before Graham Beck, but already that wine, a light wine from semillon, is already bottled, labelled and on the market. She notes that although the whites are ripening later, the reds are on time; 'it's going to be a rush of everything coming in at once.'


Delheim's viticulturist, Victor Sperling gives a graphic description weather conditions in the run up to the harvest. 'With the cool weather up to the 18th January and a little rain the week before, everything looked exceptionally healthy, with an average to big crop.

A week long heatwave was followed by a thunderstorm with high humidity and no wind. It was critical to get the grapes dry as quickly as possible; spray pumps with only the fans blowing air through the vines did the trick. A further thunderstorm with rain and cold weather followed but good wind soon dried that out.'

Canopy management has obviously been vital, as Sperling reckons sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer and fungal disease-prone shiraz have all survived with good analyses and flavours.

Mulderbosch's Mike Dobrovic enthused about the fresh, grassy aromas of sauvignon blanc, which he took in on 25th January and prior to the heatwave at the end of that week.

The Eikendal team was also upbeat about early pickings of chardonnay for Cap Classique sparkling and still wine, pinotage and sauvignon blanc from Durbanville. At that stage, prior to the rain, the quality looked 'fantastic', with the whites in particularly having superb ripe fruit.

David Trafford has already laid out on racks chenin blanc for his straw wine. Other chenin has been pressed and is undergoing natural ferment in barrels. Trafford says despite the heat and 31mm of rain, everything looks good, but 'on a knife edge'.

On the Bottelary Hills, Hartenberg's winemaker, Carl Schultz started their harvest on 29th January with chardonnay; all the sauvignon was in the cellar by 9th February, as was the first of the pinotage. Currently, he reckons conditions are good to excellent with flavour intensity, profile of the fermenting whites and colour and concentration of the reds all superb.


Riebeek Cellars started the harvest mid-January with white muscadel, chardonnay and pinot noir, picked at low sugars for low alcohol wines , the latter two varieties for bubblies. Generally, whites look good with pleasant fruit flavours; reds are more average. Danie Malan of Allesverloren reports no negative effects from the rain and is happy with the only red harvested so far, tinta barocca for his red table wine.


Harvest started on average two weeks later for all cellars in this Breede River Valley district. Chenin blanc, semillon and pinotage, the last for rosé, were among the earliest grapes picked at Brandvlei, De Wet and Aan de Doorns respectively.

The unseasonal rain has brought many challenges: botrytis, excessive growth resulting from the increased nitrogen after the thunder storms and delayed picking. The slower ripening in earlier ripening grapes will cause a bottle neck in the cellars, with many varieties being harvested at the same time.

Despite some crop loss due to botrytis and dilution, Pierre Snyman, Vinpro consultant for the area says at this stage sauvignon blanc promises to be the best in a while and the reds very good. If the weather holds and the cellars can cope with the shorter harvest, quality promises to be mostly good across the region.