Elgin gets into swing as Walker Bay scrubs up

'Everyone phoning me from Stellenbosch is planning their long weekends as they bring in the last of their reds, but we only started harvesting last week,' shrugs viticulturist Matthew van Heerden, from Iona Vineyards' lofty location 420m above sea level in the Highlands of Elgin. 'I don't think people are aware of what 'cool climate' means in this country!' 

Iona's third Sauvignon Blanc harvest happened last Monday through Thursday, with rain forcing them to take the whole lot in. 'The flavours are awesome though, and this year's Sauvignon should be much better than last year. I've still got around 5 hectares Merlot and 2 hectares Cab to bring in. I'll probably only start that in mid April,' comments Van Heerden. The wines will be made in Tokara's cellar for the last time, as a 200-ton cellar at Iona is under construction.

Closer to Elgin, apple farmer James Downes picked his maiden 113 Pinot Noir crop on 27 February from new Shannon Vineyards. Half has gone to Newton Johnson; the rest to Clive Torr, and Downes reports 'absolutely stunning' fruit (23 to 23.5º Balling, pH 3.4 and 7.8g/l acid). Four clones of maiden Merlot picked last week are also getting a range of treatments by a selection of winemakers, which Downes sees as research for his own future winemaking. Paul Cluver is fermenting 3 tons of one Merlot clone in 500 litre new oak barrels, for instance, while Neil Ellis is giving different treatment to another 6 tons. A 'very cool growing season' with phenolic ripeness and good colour are all the elements you could expect from a maiden harvest.

Bot River is a little further ahead, with Sebastian Beaumont interrupting their Chenin blending session to comment. With 'lovely fruit, quite a ripe year' for Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc 'coming around now in a fresh, zippy style', Beaumont is pretty happy with whites, reporting crops marginally up. 'Reds look excellent, especially Pinotage,' says Beaumont. 'For the Ariane, we haven't got Cab Sauv in yet from the vineyard, and Cabernet Franc and some Merlot is still fermenting. But we've got a bit of Shiraz in - it's looking fantastic!' Their Mourvèdre should be harvested in 10 days time. Around 5-6mm rain hasn't hampered them too much, actually improving botrytis conditions in their Semillon.

Catching Newton-Johnson's Gordon Johnson driving back from checking on Cabernet Sauvignon ripeness, the Hemel en Aarde valley seems to have had a mixed vintage. 'Guys in the valley have had pH and sugar levels all over the place, some ripening slow, others too high. There have been good flavours, but intermittent rain from mid to late Feb has also produced rot for some. I've heard that some Pinot producers have struggled to get colour,' says Johnson. He started with Sauvignon Blanc in mid February, and should pick his last Cabernet this week. Something new is the valley's first Shiraz, bought from recently planted Vrede vineyard, according to Johnson: 'I've also taken some Durbanville Shiraz and Malmesbury Mourvèdre, and I'm going to play with some Rhône blends, using natural ferments. With that in mind, I'm planting some of my own Grenache and Carignan.

Bouchard Finlayson took in their last grapes two weeks ago, and he describes 2003 as a 'non-nervous harvest'. Reports Peter Finlayson 'grapes are in very good condition, the only threat is high alcohol - our Sauvignon Blanc is 13,5% this year. With Pinot, the wine is not as complex as I would've liked, but then we thought that of the 1998, which turned out brilliantly. Our Kaaimansgat Chardonnay came in near the end, and all that green harvesting we did seems to have paid off nicely.'

This article was sponsored by Distell WineNews Service