Harvest 2003 gets under way

The aroma of fermenting must is once again hovering over the Cape winelands. It's difficult to believe that another harvest is upon us, but indeed the 2003 crush is already under way.

Cap Classique bubbly producers started picking chardonnay and pinot noir last week: Villiera in Stellenbosch on 14th January and Graham Beck in Robertson the day after.

Villiera's Jeff Grier and Anton Smal are very happy with what they describe as `exceptionally tiny, even berries with a well balanced analysis'. I can confirm that bunches sampled at Villiera's annual St. Vincent's celebration were juicy and flavoursome to taste and marvellous in appearance.

Pieter Ferreira, winemaker at Graham Beck's Robertson cellar, comments that although cool weather during flowering led to uneven ripening in his chardonnay, careful hand selection for Cap Classique provided `good fruit flavours and firm acid levels.' Ferreira has also harvested some unusually early pinot noir from their Helderberg vineyard for bubbly; `It's interesting, as our Robertson pinot is still a week off ripeness,' he notes, adding enthusiastically that the Helderberg grapes have `wonderful strawberry flavours, they're very exciting.'

Down the road at Springfield, Abrie Bruwer notes two recent thunderstorms `will tempt sauvignon blanc to rot if growers aren't careful.' Otherwise he's content with good flowering and set and an average size crop; he reckons the harvest should be in full swing by the end of January.

The du Preez family at Bon Cap, another Robertson winery, which has just received its full organic status, report very healthy vineyards and agree with neighbour, Abrie Bruwer, on an end January start to the harvest; pinotage promises to be the first into their new cellar.

Pinotage for Delheim's popular rosé has already started its path through the fermentation process, the 21 January pick representing the earliest in many years. Victor Sperling describes the grapes as `showing excellent balance of analysis and yielding fantastic colour.' He reckons the crop size is normal, though, as is the case with many other growers, heavy yields on the shiraz and merlot will need a good deal of thinning. Delheim's cabernet sauvignon has devised its own form of crop thinning through very uneven ripening patterns, a phenomenon generally noticed this year. 

If tensions always build up just prior to harvest, this year is certainly less nerve-wracking than 2002. `At least there's no disease,' Boekenhoutskloof's Marc Kent sighs with relief. He doesn't believe the hot weather experienced in December or early January will have a negative effect on the grapes and is looking forward to using his new `toy' - a computerised 1.5-ton basket press, the first in South Africa.

`Cautiously optimistic,' is how Jeremy Borg sums up the feelings in the Charles Back stable at Fairview and Spice Route. `Vineyards vary in how they look, but sugars are rising very slowly, which is a big positive for flavour development,' he says.

Perhaps it takes an old-timer to really stick his neck out. Jan Boland Coetzee is reported as predicting that if everything continues as it is at present, 2003 will compare with 1978, then the best vintage in 20 years.