Harvest 2001: Stellenbosch

The wine world better look out because Stellenbosch - like most other regions - looks set to have a great 2001 vintage. Warwick, north of town in the Simonsberg area, Jordan, south at Stellenbosch Kloof, and Delaire, eastwards amongst the climbing altitudes of the Helshoogte, are all reporting good whites and reds.

Malawian-born Vincent Harrington decided to study winemaking after drinking South African wines while living in Lesotho, but home-hopping around the globe with his engineer father meant that he graduated from Adelaide's Waites college in 2000. Meeting Warwick's Mike Ratcliffe, who was studying wine marketing there, resulted in an invitation to work a South African harvest. With the sudden departure of Anna-Mareé Mostert, Vincent suddenly found himself thrown into the winemaker's seat, in consultation with Norma Ratcliffe.

'We're not going on sugar and pH analyses, we're picking on flavour, so Warwick's harvest is later than in previous years. The sugars were high but the flavours weren't there so we picked selectively and left some stuff longer. The Merlot is just coming in, same as the Cab Sauv. We've just pressed the first Cab Franc, so everything is happening now,' sighed Vincent wearily. 'We picked all the stressed red bunches to make up a port, but it's so good that we're going to make it into a table wine now. So we certainly can expect some full-bodied wines this year.'

Jordan also lost winemaker Rudi Schultz, but Cathy and Gary are being assisted by an energetic team of Sjaak Nelson and - temporarily - overseas-honed Johan Kruger and Nicky Wilson, back from California and Australasia respectively. The last of their reds, plus two tons of Chardonnay, came in over the weekend. 'Every vineyard block has been harvested and fermented separately, so we get to know each, and blend accordingly. Our vineyards range from 160 - 450m so we can have three to four weeks ripening difference within our Chardonnay vineyards,' explained Gary. Cathy says they're very happy with whites and reds this year, although Chardonnay yields are lower due to less winter budding. 'Our fruit looks really concentrated, and drip irrigation over a cool summer means our vines haven't stressed - a fact proven by pH levels so low that we took our pH machine for testing!'

Delaire's Helshoogte vines at 380 - 580m ripen later than most. With Sauvignon and two-thirds of Chardonnay in, they await their first Merlot block next week. Bruwer Raats reckons their flagship Merlot and Botmaskop Cab Sauv will only be harvested in April. 'I can comfortably say that our Sauvignon will be better than 2000, and probably rate 8 out of 10 as a vintage. Our Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc will probably be an 8 or 9. On reds we've had longer hang time than in recent years, but we've got physiological ripeness at lower sugar levels compared to 1999 and 2000,' Bruwer concluded optimistically.