Harvest 2004 kicks off with a bang

A scientist called Bill Lembeck once calculated that a 750ml bottle of Champagne contains 49 million bubbles, based on 5.5 atmospheres of pressure, when stored at 20 degrees Celsius. If you still need a reason to pop that bubbly cork, how about a toast to the start of harvest 2004? Cape Cap Classique is getting more marvellous by the moment, and a regional bubbly report seems a good point to kick off. 

Robertson appears to be first in with the action, with Graham Beck's Pieter 'Bubbles' Ferreira bringing in six tonnes of experimental new-clone Chardonnay for sparkling base wine, on January 9. 'We brought in three different clones, which we're using to look at potential for next year, so it's definitely experimental. We started in earnest on January 16, with Chardonnay for base wine,' says Ferreira. Robertson Pinot Noir followed on 20 January, with Pinot from two Firgrove farms in on January 21. Ferreira reports some uneven ripening of these early varieties, but reckons the recent hot weather spell should allow later-ripening varieties to catch up, while January 19's light drizzle helped preserve flavours. 'Grapes are incredibly healthy, and the sugar/acid balance is good so far. But it's only three days into the ferment so we can't say for sure.'

There's also base wine in the making at Stellenbosch's JC le Roux. Melanie van der Merwe says her first Robertson Chardonnay was delivered to their Devon Valley cellar on January 15, with Devon Valley Pinot, and grapes from Helderberg's Baarsma farm in on January 19. 2004 looks good, but some of her vineyards also show uneven ripening. 'I'm finding totally green bunches next to totally ripe, black ones, so we'll have to return to the same vineyard twice,' she reports. 'Next week will be a smash - everything will be ripe!' Grapes are in from Rawsonville, while Stellenbosch, Robertson and Franschhoek deliveries are expected by the end of January. 

Robertson's Bon Courage started harvesting Pinot Noir for their bubbly on January 15, with Chardonnay in four days later. Jacques Bruwer says a cooler December ensured healthy grapes - no spraying for downy mildew as in 2003 - and even ripening. Harvest began four days later than 2003. Night harvesting at Twee Jonge Gezellen hasn't started in Tulbagh, but should happen before the end of January.

Dodging cellphone calls is common winemaker harvest etiquette, but Jeff Grier simply forgot to switch on. Tracking him eventually, Grier reported that Villiera's bubbly picking began on January 19. All their bushvine Pinotage and bushvine Pinot Noir is in, as well as some young bushvine Chardonnay. He expects a 10-day wait for their trellised vineyards, which include Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Uneven ripeness has struck here too, particularly bushvines, but Grier is 'pretty happy' with sparkling wine so far. 'It's difficult to say what the current heatwave could do to the crop as a whole, but it looks like an average crop, with very healthy acidity and low pHs.'