Harvest Report 6

Karl Lambour at Meerendal experienced runaway ferments when the Western Cape's power was cut for most of Sunday, February 19th. 'One of my Sauvignon batches went up to 25/28°C for an hour. It was only 5000 litres, so we managed to chill it later. But when only making a small amount it makes a difference,' he complains. Lambour also had a press stop upside down while draining juice, as they were filling it with Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The power outage also affected reds. 'I had a 1955 old block of Pinotage which we were naturally fermenting. The first open ferment went up to 42°C; the second batch to 32°C. So when the power returned, we managed to save it by combining the two batches and punching down dry ice into the cap. It took a couple of extra days but fermented dry.'

Like many Western Cape cellars, Meerendal has subsequently forked out big money on generators. 'Everybody seems to be buying them. We sent a truck to buy two in Pretoria because there weren't any available in the Western Cape,' says Lambour. 'Diemersdal, Tokara and Buitenverwachting have all now got them. We bought one for our restaurants and function venues; another for the winery. A generator is hugely expensive to buy - you're looking at R1000 per Kva - and that's before you've run it on diesel fuel. You've also got to install, soundproof and weatherproof it.' 

Ironically Meerendal couldn't start their generator in time to be of benefit when Durbanville experienced power cuts on February 28th, as it takes about 45 minutes to connect. Lambour says their 2006 harvest dates are two weeks behind 2005. 'We're about halfway through Pinotage, just finished with Chenin and only one Sauvignon block is still hanging,' he reports. Around 2mm of rainfall fell in his area of Durbanville during the last days of February.

Franschhoek Vineyards also battled runaway ferments caused by Sunday 19 February power cuts. They crush about 2200 tons from 30 growers, and bottle various labels including some for Woolworths. General manager Daan Coetzee reports taking in some Chenin Blanc and a lot of Semillon on the Thursday before. 'Tanks started to ferment at high temperatures on the Saturday night because the refrigeration was under pressure. By Sunday 19th we had some runaway ferments when power went out from 3am until 2pm. Then, on the Monday power was off again for 5 hours; on the Tuesday for another three,' he recalls. 'You can always swing a tank like that into something, but you'll definitely take a quality knock-on to determine your loss.' 

Gyles Webb says Thelema hasn't been affected by rainfall or power cuts - a generator was purchased three weeks ago. Thelema's whites are in, plus some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Louis Nel says Warwick escaped energy cuts without damage. 'We were fairly unaffected by mid February cuts, but were working with Chardonnay on February 28th and only just finished,' he says. 'We had cuts in the morning from 2 - 7.30am, then a short cut after lunch and a long one from 3 - 9pm. We couldn't chill our Chardonnay grapes so just had to wait. We eventually managed to press.' 

Pieter Ferreira says Graham Beck's Franschhoek cellar has mostly been affected by power cuts, so they've installed a generator. 'In Robertson all the big electricity users were advised about the cuts but they don't always run as planned. We'd just started pump-overs on February 28 and had three tanks running. Then we had this outage in Robertson, so it's not that easy,' he says. Robertson's The Ridge Shiraz came in recently, and the first of three parcels has fermented dry in barrel. 

Kobus Gerber says the Bergkelder uses some generators but this doesn't rule out other cellar complications. 'Power cuts have been inconvenient for ferments, but haven't been too long. My strategy is to ferment whites a bit colder so that a maximum four-hour cut won't affect us too much. The problem is coming in to reset air compressors for cooling equipment at night - we came in for three cuts on February 27th.' Gerber hasn't experienced runaway fermentations as the cellar team splits day and night shifts. He's working with Viognier from Lomond near Gansbaai, and taking in Sauvignon Blanc from Lutsville for Fleur du Cap during the first week of March. Rain of 5 - 15mm in Stellenbosch on February 27 and 28 hasn't slowed harvest pace.

Late February rain has slowed Hemel en Aarde valley activity. 'Rain has stopped play this week, so we haven't done much of anything. It's fairly significant, probably about 10mm,' reports Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson. Their Pinot Noir harvested pre-February is already going into barrel. 'We've still got Sangiovese - about 50% - Nebbiolo and Barbera out there. Crop levels are down on last year but quality is good. Last week Thursday [February 24th] we had three cuts in one day, and the power was cut until 11am on February 28,' says Finlayson.

Boekenhoutskloof winemaker Marc Kent feels lucky that his Semillon was in before 14 - 16mm fell in the Bohoek from 26 - 28 February. The area is wetter than the Franschhoek valley. Kent's premium Syrah from Wellington was harvested between February 17 - 24. Boekenhoutskloof didn't suffer from power outages as they have efficient cooling systems. Franschhoek municipality also called a meeting with restaurateurs and wineries to find times that would suit most for a February 28 power outage. Kent says power cuts are common in remote areas of France and Romania, and feels the South African situation isn't unique.

John Loubser says wind has kept rain away at Steenberg's Constantia cellar, while a cool season has put their harvest schedule back by two weeks on 2005. 'We're still busy with Sauvignon Blanc - we planned to bring in our best blocks on Feb 28th and Thursday 2 March, but because of power cuts we've decided not to take a chance,' he explains. Steenberg has ordered a generator after power cuts hampered progress. 'We couldn't harvest a single grape last week because of power cuts, and would've hand harvested a few blocks,' explains Loubser. 'Luckily the power came on for two hours to press a tank that had been chilling overnight on Feb 27th - we pressed and the power went off as we were cleaning the press afterwards.'

Bruce Jack says Flagstone ordered in November 2005 as a precaution. 'If you've got a couple of 100,000 litres of Sauvignon Blanc fermenting and can't keep it cool, insurance doesn't cover you for the first 24 hrs. Insurance won't cover you after that either if you've been warned to expect further power cuts.'