Harvest 2005 Part 3 - Different patterns up North

Many Western Cape cellars have picked whites and early-ripening Pinotage for a while, but harvesting only just started in the Northern Cape. Ian Sieg at Landzicht GWK Wines in Jacobsdal has brought in around 600 of their projected 4300 tons. Harvesting began in the last week of January with Chenel (a Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc cross) and Pinotage, both destined for dry bulk wines. Sieg says Chenel is common up there because it's fairly rot-resistant in the wetter vintages. 

For bottled wines, their first Chardonnay was in on February 1, while Gewürtztraminer came in on February 3. They've started picking from selected 'spits' blocks (these farmers are paid better for superior quality) of Chenin Blanc and Colombard from the Jacobsdal area. They're also picking Cabernet Sauvignon near Barkley West. Sieg says Cabernet is about two weeks earlier this year - he reckons December temperatures in the 40s (degrees Celcius) are probably responsible. Temperatures have been moderated by January rain and days in early February averaging around 35 degrees. 

'We're going into wood for the first time in our Cab this year,' announces Sieg proudly of his future flagship. A Veritas Bronze for a Cab from staves encouraged the wood upgrade. 'We don't have uniform ripeness this year which worries me a bit, but there are nice small Cab berries,' he adds.

Over in Olifants River, northwest of Cape Town, Klaas Coetzee is viticulturist at Klawer Co-operative Winery. Their 120 members have 60 supplying vineyards. Coetzee says they started early on January 5. First in was Chardonnay for bulk and bottled brands, with Chenin Blanc next. Some Muscat de Frontignan was also harvested early for Distell's dry white. 'In reds, we started with Merlot - strange but true. We had a heatwave between January 10 and 11. Some farms measured 47 degrees, so sugars were high. But it was stabilized by two weeks of cool weather,' he says.

By January 31, Klawer had 12,808 of their projected 39,000 tons in the tanks. Comparatively in 2004, harvesting only started on January 17. 'Our producers say their volumes are normal or l0% down on 2004. Our vines are all irrigated but the drought halved our water consumption [restrictions were imposed by Clanwilliam dam]. So quality is quite good, although some batches from the heatwave were a hassle in the cellar.' 

Dudley Wilson has clocked up an impressive mileage while checking on vineyard ripeness levels. Around 300 tons of their projected 1000-ton Stellar Organic wine production is already fermenting away at their Trawal cellar. First in was organic Sauvignon Blanc from Vredendal (35km northwest of Trawal) in the last week of January. Next in, a regular Sauvignon batch from the new, cooler coastal Koekenaap ward (near Lutzville, 75km northwest of Trawal) during the first week of February. Ten days earlier than 2004, this first crop of grapes is destined for a farmer's private bottling. Stellar has also picked organic Shiraz from a Van Rhynsdorp farm 35km away. 

The Olifants River was generally spared the wetter late January weather of the Western Cape, aside from some vineyards in the Van Rhynsdorp area which had around 20mm of rain. 

'We've been processing table grapes for distilling wine since December, so I've been seeing a tsunami of table grapes!' laughs Wilson. 'Table grapes are often an indication of quality though - this year the lug box weights are lighter. We're seeing a nice analysis on our wines - guys didn't get their normal water quotas so they've been cleverer about water usage this vintage. Myself? I'm looking forward to Merlot - it's looking quite nice at the moment.'