Harvest 2001

'All round this year looks like a cracker!' says Mark Kent of Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek of the 2001 vintage. The ripening season started off with quite a heavy heat spell in December, which cooled down considerably during January. The result is cooler average temperatures, taking into account that the past 3 vintages have been some of the hottest in a long time.

Mark continues to say that due to this weather, their harvest is delayed by exactly two weeks. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, the extension of the hanging time on the vine, offers the grapes the opportunity to ripen slowly, while fruit-acid complexity increases and physiological ripeness is achieved with more success. During hot vintages, sugar levels rise rapidly and do not walk hand in hand with the ripening tempo of, for example, the tannins. If grapes are harvested on account of sugar ripeness and not on physical ripeness, the wines show 'green' tannins and underdeveloped flavour profiles.

At Delheim and on sister-farm Delvera, resident viticulturist Victor Sperling is equally excited of the prevailing conditions. He also comments on this years healthy canopies, which provide optimum shade for slow ripening. On the Simonsberg slopes the Burgundy varieties seems to have a lower yield this year, along with Pinotage. This is due to last years winter, which was not cold enough for the buds to go into a proper annual dormancy. Victor is further excited about Sauvignon Blanc in the Stellenbosch area, which is usually warmer than various other cool sites where Sauvignon Blanc benefits from lower average temperatures. 

This could be another 1997 (noted for excellent Sauvignon), which was also an exceptionally cool vintage. The difference is that 97 was wet and humid, creating the ideal climate for downy and powdery mildew to infect and rot the bunches. Another good thing is that the nights are also chilly, compared to other years. On the other side of Stellenbosch, on the Helderberg, Jan Boland Coetzee at Vriesenhof consulted his records and found that the average temperatures of 2001 are even lower than those of 1997. The challenge is to harness these beautiful flavours developed in the vineyards and preserve them through the winemaking process.

In Hermanus the harvest has hardly started. Gordon Johnson, winemaker of father Dave Johnsons Cape Bay negociant wines as well as Newton-Johnson wines, has been taking off some Sauvignon Blanc form vineyards in Botrivier, while the majority of the grapes will be taken off by next week. Hes of the opinion that they will only start harvesting their Pinot Noir in two weeks time. The delay is also due to exceptionally cool weather, with Kevin Grant - winemaker of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, also noting that according to his weather records, 2001 is the coolest vintage since he started there in 1994. Bouchard Finlayson, next door to Hamilton Russell, has already started harvesting their Pinot Noir. They are usually a bit earlier than everybody else, possibly due to their vines being trellised on the Guyot system. Grapes hang closer the ground and the proximity of the warm soil at night contributes to the ripening of the bunches.

For Bordeaux varieties the vintage looks good as well, although Jan Boland Coetzee reckons is much too early to say, even in the light of the very positive conditions. Victor Sperling is very happy with their Shiraz and Cabernet. The grapes show good fruit flavours developing and seems to be of high quality. With the crop being too heavy in places, a lot of thinning has been done to concentrate the flavours.