Harvest 2005 Part 5 - Major quality areas have swung into action

Pingpong is probably not something many South African winemakers have mastered, yet harvest 2005 is requiring some deft moves and quick returns. Early cultivars are coming in later and late-ripening cultivars are coming in earlier, plus, there's scattered rot in whites and uneven ripening. Allocating tank space requires some careful planning. 

Martin Meinert produces Meinert Wines in Devon Valley, Ken Forrester's Helderberg label, and from 2005 is acting as consultant to Morgenhof in the Simonsberg. 'We're picking Merlot from Ken's vineyard in the Helderberg, from our own in Devon Valley, and also Merlot from the Eagle's Nest vineyard in Constantia. It has the highest vineyards in Constantia and they're north-facing,' explains Martin. 'All our vineyards are irrigated yet we seem to have reached a similar stage everywhere - our sugars are stuck at 23/24° balling. So there's lower alcohol and a general slowing down, but at the same time there's no real physiological ripeness. When to pick is really a hard one to call.' Meinert moans about having no clear picking pattern in terms of cultivars this year - their Cabernet Sauvignon could come in before the last Merlot, while Shiraz and Merlot could be neck on neck. Ken Forrester's Helderberg white crop is down, with rot affecting Chenin Blanc in particular. Reds are faring better, with Grenache for Forrester's Grenache-Syrah looking particularly good, from two high-altitude Piekenierskloof vineyards picked in early and mid February. Meinert reports he's noted good colour in reds generally, but he's not overly optimistic about 2005. His concerns: possible green flavours showing later, and a lack of body in the wines.

Jordan in Stellenbosch Kloof has had a textbook Sauvignon Blanc vintage that's up on 2004's crop, according to Kathy Jordan. Saved by Gary's decision to spray for rot in advance, they haven't had rot or botrytis complications since Sauvignon came in on January 26. Chenin was in during early February, followed by Chardonnay. Their Nine Yards vineyard came in during mid February, and whites finish up this week with the bulk of Chardonnay, which matches 2004 in tonnage. 'We've done about 600 of the 950 tons we anticipate. We should start on our Cab this weekend, and have it all wrapped up in two weeks,' says Jordan.

Nederburg's white winemaker Andrea Freeborough has practically wrapped up whites, with 5400 of their expected 6000 tons in. Limited tank capacity has hampered progress. With most whites in very early due to January heatwaves, she calls harvest 2005 a fruit salad. 'Our best Chardonnay from Paarl, Stellenbosch and Durbanville came in last and this week. The better Sauvignons only started to come in from Durbanville and Darling last week too,' she reports. 'This week we're getting our first Noble Late Chenin in very early, from our Groenhof farm near Muratie.' These grapes are usually harvested at the end of March.

Viticulturist and grape buyer Drikus Heyns says Nederburg's harvested reds are halfway through their projected 10,500 tons total. Despite general speculation that 2005 crops are down, Heyns believes only specific regions or cultivars have been affected. He says Pinotage is nearly all in, and is likely to meet targets. But Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (their biggest red cultivar), could all be down in tonnage thanks to the performance of hardest-hit Philadelphia and Malmesbury. 'Wellington and Paarl are mostly on crop estimates for whites and reds and Stellenbosch isn't looking too bad. Darling, Malmesbury and Philadelphia seem slightly down on all varieties. In Stellenbosch, Wellington and Paarl, rot damage means Chenin is definitely down, and Chardonnay to a lesser degree. In general, Sauvignon Blanc seems on target,' he estimates.

Bucking the trend of earlier 2005 harvesting, Louis Strydom started bringing in grapes later at the new Ernie Els cellar, on February 21. Located in Stellenbosch's golden triangle, he reminds that they only work with late-ripening varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. Yet despite kicking off with Merlot, he's alternating daily with Shiraz. Strydom expects to pick Cabernet in mid March. Warm weather has had an effect on the vines as pHs have been pushed high while acidities have stayed low. Strydom hasn't pressed yet though, so his predictions for 2005 wines remain upbeat.