Harvest 2005 Part 6 - Remaining regions bring in the last lots

If a wine award for harvest patience and persistence existed, Graham Beck's Pieter Ferreira would surely be the recipient. Who else tolerates harvest for nearly three months? Ferreira has been at it in Robertson since they picked for sparkling wine ten days early on January 6. If Easter weekend is the unspoken harvest deadline for winemakers, most make it with days and even weeks to spare. 

With reds at a 'complete standstill', Ferreira may not be as lucky. 'Everything's just shut down after last weekend, and it's not only old virused vineyards,' he moans, classifying 2005 as 'unusual' for Robertson. 'It's been the wettest summer in recorded history with late January rain, and a cool season ever since. We normally have 45 degrees-plus for three to four days, but not this year.' Elegance and finesse are the buzzwords for whites and reds, although Chardonnay is 25% down from botrytis, with Viognier also taking a knock. Young Shiraz vineyards had some volume reductions but prime Ridge fruit is unaffected and 'looking beautiful'. Now if only the Cabernet Sauvignon would wake up.

Altus le Roux of Paarl's Boland Kelder says 2005 has been a difficult year for cellar logistics, with whites a quality challenge. With 96 grower shareholders to allocate cellar space for, Boland's red needs have been immense. 'It's been an above-average vintage for some cultivars, but the year was hard: machinery was under pressure and people too, sometimes twenty-four hours a day,' he reports. In quality terms, Boland is 15% down in whites, with Chenin Blanc particularly affected. Sauvignon Blanc has increased this vintage by 40% on 2004, thanks to new plantings. Chardonnay quantities equal 2004's. 

Of Boland's total 2600ha, new plantings probably contributed 30-40% of 2005's total 10,000-ton red production. Boland's reds are up by 20% on average - Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are both up 30% on 2004 while Pinotage is at similar quantities. Boland shut down their Northern Paarl cellar last week, and Daljosafat cellar is bringing in the last grapes this week. 

Abé Beukes says he's feeling 'unbelievably warm' on a March day over in Darling. Darling Cellars started the 'deurmekaar' 2005 vintage two weeks early. It was pretty much wrapped up - 6100 tons in - by March 9. They're intentionally down on 2004's crop, after not buying in extras from growers trying to sell a cultivar package. 'We had a lot of our own grapes, Shiraz in particular, so I bought less in. Around 10 - 15% of our crop is sold as bulk wine, so I don't want to sit with that and take tank space away from my serious stuff,' he reports. 

In 2005, most Darling growers' crops are reduced - Chenin is down 10%, but Chardonnay is up 10% and Sauvignon Blanc 5%, thanks to young vineyards. Mostly unirrigated red cultivars are showing the effect of dry winters. 'There was some stress in the vineyards, so I was surprised by the quality of reds. Whites, we normally keep longer on the lees, but Sauvignon is showing quite nicely - it's not 2003 but it could look worse! In reds, it's better than 2002 and perhaps even 2004. In some, alcohols are too high of course.'

On a hobbyist level, Pieter de Waal is making wine in a well-hidden cellar under his grandfather's former Bellville home. His wine collection lines shelves on one side with three different plastic bins of fermenting Shiraz fitting in opposite. De Waal left Paarl Vintners at the end of 2004 to begin marketing the Durbanville Wine Valley. With Clive Kerr of Coleraine, he's released their maiden Hermit on the Hill Shiraz 2000. It's a well-priced red from Paarl fruit, brilliant for knocking off when you don't want to think too hard. Appropriately perhaps, 2005 grapes have been sourced in Durbanville. De Waal's current partners are former Ashanti winemaker Sydney Burke, and two enthusiasts with day jobs in telecommunications.

Hearing that Durbanville still has two weeks of red cultivars to bring in, I contact Martin Moore of Durbanville Hills. 'It's not a bit - we've still got about 1200 tons outside!' he exclaims. With a projected 5472,000 tons expected, the cellar is bringing in the remaining Shiraz and Merlot, but pumps churn predominantly with Cabernet Sauvignon. 'We thought we'd be later with reds, but with warmer days, the clock is running. We'll probably finish the week after Easter,' Moore predicts an April wrap-up. 

'I'm very happy with the Sauvignons - we had a fairly cool spell and no rain, so Durbanville seems to be a safe haven. In reds, we've worked with canopies, and colours are the best since I started here in '99,' he enthuses. 'So yes, I'm flipping happy with 2005 - from what I hear from the other guys, we're definitely sitting in a blessed little valley!'