Harvest 2005 Part 4 - Elgin, Bot River and Walker Bay

'We're not quite halfway yet in Elgin, but as in Stellenbosch, everything has just ripened at the same time,' reports a cheerful Andries Burger from Paul Cluver's cellar. This team's harvest began during the first week of February - two weeks earlier than 2004 - and Gewurtztraminer and Riesling are showing 'awesome' flavours. Their Sauvignon Blanc is 'nice and concentrated, with more passionfruit and less green pepper flavours'. This cellar has also taken in their first crop of Sauvignon from their highest 450m vineyard block. In reds, Merlot should be appearing in the cellar by the weekend. 

Other Elgin producers are in agreement with Burger that Pinot Noir has struggled during 2005, thanks to 50mm of rain on January 27 and 28, plus heatwave temperatures the following week. Complains Burger: 'I threw away seven tons off the sorting table!'

Renting space in the same cellar, winemaker Pieter Visser is working his third Oak Valley vintage. They started picking Sauvignon Blanc - concentrated flavours but not expected to pip 2004 - and Pinot Noir from their lower vineyards (350m above sea level) on February 10. 'We're very quiet now as there is usually a two-week break between the lower and mountain vineyards. We might start picking the mountain vineyards on Feb 23rd,' Visser predicts, referring to vines planted as high as 600m.

Consultant Niels Verburg says Iona's harvest is still a while away, but then its 420m-location - separated from the rest of the valley - plays a role. 'We sit in Sauternes mist on most days, so most of Iona's Sauvignon is only at around 16° balling. We're still two weeks from picking the first blocks, but then 2004 only began on March 16,' says Verburg. He harvested his 2-ha Bot River Shiraz block for Luddite on February 21, reporting that drought conditions have resulted in smaller berries, reducing his takings to three tons per hectare. Similar smaller berries characterized Verburg's bought-in Shiraz blocks in Malmesbury - harvested on February 16 - and Helderberg - harvested on February 18. 'In reds, Bot River seems to be two weeks earlier than 2004, but most reds from Malmesbury and Stellenbosch seem to be up to a month earlier.'

At the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, WhaleHaven's Paul Engelbrecht reports a harvest that began with Bot River Chardonnay and Elgin Pinot Noir on February 10. He also picked some Viognier from Sir Lowry's Pass on January 26 - a WhaleHaven Viognier/Chardonnay blend will make its debut. With WhaleHaven's plan to expand their current range, plus the introduction of a separate range, Engelbrecht feels as if it's raining grapes. Cultivars jamming the cellar simultaneously don't ease matters either.

Further up the valley at Sumaridge, consultant Kevin Grant reports a generally dry, rot-free vintage for those who stuck to their spraying program. He says bird-induced rot damage seems a bigger concern, with Newton Johnson introducing experimental bird nets, and small Springfontein farm playing with netting options at Stanford.

'Most of the guys have brought in Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay; it's certainly the case with Sumaridge and Newton-Johnson,' Grant reports. At Sumaridge, Sauvignon was in on Feb 16; Chardonnay in between Feb 11 to 18, so both were spared the following weekend's drizzle. 'Our Sauvignon isn't wow, but there aren't any problems. With Chardonnay it's hard to judge now,' Grant reports, adding that he's already pressed the first Pinot Noir for Sumaridge.

Grant's label Ataraxia makes its debut in 2005, and quality is 'looking really good'. He's sourced some Sauvignon Blanc from Faure, but 65 percent will be Sumaridge fruit. 'My Chardonnay is still about 20° balling in the Koue-Bokkeveld. I'm excited to see what this very cool, extreme vineyard will produce as it's the only one in the valley.' Meanwhile, Shiraz for Grant's Ataraxia blend came in from Durbanville on February 21.

A good distance away, between Stanford and Napier, Raka stands proudly in the recently declared Kleinrivier appellation. With two Italian vintages behind her, winemaker Tanya Rousseau says Raka's Sauvignon harvest began on February 2 and the white grapes were all in by February 19. Two tanks of Sauvignon are looking good despite a bit of dodgem cars with scattered rot, while an experimental blend of Viognier, Chenin and Sauvignon is busy fermenting. Reds are still a while off, with only one block of Merlot and some young Malbec already in. Shiraz is expected during the last week of February. Then some Italian Sangiovese to spice things up.