Harvest Report 3: Cellar action in Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester and Paarl

As the Boland nears the end of January, harvesting is only beginning for the majority of producers. Tulbagh's Twee Jonge Gezellen started picking for sparkling wine production on Sunday January 15th. Nicky Krone says they're picking quite a bit earlier than in 2005: ‘We're about halfway through Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

It's looking good but we've got to run fast with these fairly warm temperatures. Fortunately we've got very cool nights when we're picking.' With a show of entrepreneurial flair, 19-year-old Luke Krone is also organising night-harvesting dinners for the month of February (on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays). 

Participants arrive for a tasting and casual dinner in the tasting centre, then join regular pickers at 10pm on the ‘starlight express', the farm tractor loaded with grape bins. Pierre Wahl of Rijk's in Tulbagh wrapped up harvesting on February 20th in 2005, but he expects to only lock up his cellar in 2006 during the first week of March. ‘I brought in our first Sauvignon last Thursday [January 19] with a lot of green fig flavours. I added yeast two days ago so can't really assess quality right now,' he says. ‘We'll buy in Sauvignon from the Darling side of Malmesbury as usual, and they're 10 days behind 2005.' 

Wahl expects the farm's Pinotage and Chardonnay to come in during early February. ‘Pinotage sugars shot up quite dramatically over the weekend but are not phenolically ripe, so we're giving it a few days. We're hoping for cooler weather to slow the sugar climb and keep the phenolics and tannins in balance,' he continues. Rijk's also only harvests at night (from 11pm to 8am) and Wahl is upbeat about 2006 quality. 

He says Tulbagh experienced double their 2004 winter rains during winter 2005; hence vines don't look too stressed. Strong wind had a negative effect on the first few rows of some blocks, but they've acted as windbreaks for remaining rows. Diemersfontein started processing Wellington grapes on Monday 23 January. 

Operations manager Simon Springthorpe confirmed that the cellar will likely harvest their own grapes within seven days. ‘We've brought in 55 tons of Pinotage this week from a Wellington supplier. It'll go into the 32,000 cases of Pinotage we'll be making this year - our Corolla Tazz of the range,' he quipped. Bernard Smuts reports that Boland Kelder started harvesting their first 200 tons in Paarl on January 25. With 21,000 tons to go, he's upbeat. ‘We started with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage. It's from the Perdeberg and from Drakenstein on the Wellington side of Paarl,' he shouts over the cellar din, while tasting juices from grapes received. ‘At the moment, it looks good. 

Acids are high and Ph is low - what we want. Something different this year is that berries are smaller, which provides a better skin/juice ratio for the reds.' Smuts predicts a slow ripening period for whites and reds, noting that cool evenings could be contributing to their 2006 harvest dates being 10 days later. Over in Worcester, Natalie van Rooyen is working her second harvest at Overhex Private Cellar. She suspects cooler weather is responsible for slowing grape development compared to late January 2005, when Overhex cellar was harvesting in full force. 

Van Rooyen concentrates on white wines but says Overhex expects Pinotage at the end of January. ‘We've brought in some Chardonnay [17 tons] and it's looking really good. Some of our neighbours are starting to bring in Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wine grapes, but generally sugars are still low,' she says. ‘We're bringing in Sauvignon Blanc today too but I haven't seen any grapes yet. We were in the vineyards last week and some of the Sauvignon blocks were looking really good though: very grassy, green pepper flavours.'