Harvest Report 7 - The halfway mark

Johan Kruger is halfway through harvest at Diemersdal in Durbanville, and has brought in all but Cabernet Sauvignon at his family's Sterhuis cellar in Bottelary, Stellenbosch. 'At Diemersdal we started with Sauvignon Blanc in the first week of Feb, and then picked our slightly greener Chardonnays next. An interesting 2006 factor was that everything ripened quite quickly, but grapes were physiologically ripe at lower sugars. The whites should have 0.5 - 1% lower overall alcohols, and we're even seeing that with reds. Our Chardonnay reserve 2005 was 14.5% and this year will be 13.8%,' he says. 

Diemersdal 2006 Pinotage came in earlier than 2005, showing riper tannins at lower sugar levels. They've been picking Merlot since March 7, and single-vineyard Shiraz since 15 March. 'We started harvesting earlier than 2005, but sugars sat a bit. Now everything is ripening at the same time. We're processing 70 - 100 tons on most days so we're trying to keep up. One of the challenges with this vintage is timing: if you picked on sugar only, you'd be caught with your pants down,' Kruger comments. Decidedly smaller operations at Sterhuis show a similar sugar trend. 'Sterhuis Sauvignon Blanc was also at lower sugar levels which lowered the alcohol levels, but with Chardonnay we had a bit of a temperature jump before we could catch it. Chardonnay ferments in barrel are halfway now,' he says.

Martin Meinert of Meinert and Ken Forrester (plus Morgenhof and Eagle's Nest consultancies) reports a ripeness phenomenon in Devon Valley too. 'We picked our first Meinert Cabernet Sauvignon this week [March 13]. What's exciting is that even though 2006 is a difficult vintage to read, physiological ripeness is at lower sugars which is very good for the resulting wines,' he says. Meinert is about halfway through production. He picked Merlot from Eagles Nest's 450m north-facing site in Constantia on March 14. He plans to pick Eagle's Nest Viognier and Shiraz over the next few days.

André van Rensburg at Vergelegen in the Helderberg is also happy with what he's seeing. 'I've worked nine harvests and this is the first time I've had physiological ripeness with brown pips,' he enthuses about Sauvignon Blanc and 'fantastic' Semillon. He began harvesting reds on March 8.

Gordon Johnson of Newton Johnson is 'in the thick of it' with lower Hemel-en-Aarde-valley Shiraz currently staining his hands. Unlike his Boland counterparts, Johnson reports a mixed vintage. Sauvignon Blanc - a week or two late - has struggled to reach sugar levels. On the flip side, Shiraz [coming in since 7 March] suffered the effects of cold evenings, 20mm of rain and then a heatwave, causing vine stress and dramatic jumps in sugar levels. There's no concern about Pinot Noir though. 'Our Pinots are very good with great colour, thanks to those cooler nights and warm days. We brought grapes in from Elgin since late February. The last lot came in on 10 March. The first Pinot off our new farm will only be in production from next year.'

Niels Verburg makes Luddite in Bot River, and consults for other wineries in the area. 'Hang on a second while I check a press... My Luddite Stellenbosch Shiraz is coming in now and is three weeks later than normal,' he says. 'I'm halfway through Sauvignon for Iona in Elgin. Quality is good because we've had fairly moderate conditions - the highest temperature was 34°C, on 6 March when the rest of the Boland had that 40°C day. The maiden vintage of Iona Semillon and Chardonnay is also in - we're not sure if we'll have a blend or varietal wines yet, but Iona might have its best vintage ever!'

Verburg kicked off with Stanford Pinotage for Weltevrede farm on February 10 'nice ripe flavours', then Bot River dryland Luddite Shiraz on February 13 - 'great analysis although grapes ripened a bit too quickly'. Both have fermented dry. He brought in Southfield Sauvignon Blanc from a warmer part of Elgin in mid February 'stunning flavours'. Sauvignon has also come in since March 7 from new Hawston Bay Vineyards in mountains near Bot River where Verburg reports 'very exciting stuff. Everybody's buying fruit from their first crop'. Overall he predicts slightly fuller Overberg whites and reds in 2006, but excellent quality.