South African Wine Harvest Report 2003 - Paarl

Production trends
Production in Paarl, at approximately 152 982 tons, was up by 45.3% - the area's biggest wine grape harvest since 1997. Almost all cultivars produced a bigger crop than in 2002. 

Climatic conditions and influence on vine growth 
The 2002/2003 season was one of the healthiest wine grape seasons in years and normal spraying programmes provided very good control. 
The season kicked off extremely well, after a winter that compared favourably with the long term figures regarding rainfall and cold temperatures. Vineyards started to bud later, but evenly, and the budding percentages in all cultivars were better than in 2002. This also resulted in even growth early in the season.

October and November temperatures were below the long term averages, consequently shoot growth was slower than usual. This caused many shoots to be shorter than 60 cm in the flowering period. Consequently tipping and topping actions, where applicable, could not be undertaken at the usual times. In certain Chardonnay vineyards, as well as other isolated cases, there were signs of poor berry set with small, hard, green berries in bunches. Due to the cool weather, the flowering period lasted longer and was rather uneven.

From December to the end of the harvest, temperatures in Paarl were normal and vineyards were growing vigorously. Substantially less rain fell in January and February than in the corresponding months in 2002. Dry conditions kept rot and mildew at bay. 

From veraison to harvesting there were no significant summer rains, causing strain in dryland vineyards in particular. Water became very limited and scheduling had to be adjusted to make ends meet with limited irrigation water. Rain towards the end of March brought relief. 

Grape and wine quality
Wine quality is looking good, especially from grapes harvested in the first half of the season.

In general the quality of white grapes was better than in 2002. Full-bodied Chenin blanc wines are expected. Grapes were definitely healthier than in 2002, with better flavours. The best Chardonnay grapes were harvested between 24° and 26°B. Grape were fully ripe, with big bunches producing a much larger crop. Press juice contained more tannins and wines should be full-bodied with lots of fruit. With the correct canopy management, Sauvignon blanc grapes were better than the previous 5 - 6 years. Most of the grapes were harvested before the February heatwave, with good analyses.

The scorching heat on 10 February (temperatures above 43°C) caused acid to decrease drastically and pH to shoot up. Crushed grapes therefore required acid adjustments. Tannins in berries were softer, possibly due to the February heat, and this year most of the grapes reached optimum ripeness at lower sugar levels, which should result in lower alcohol levels in the wines.

Vineyard manipulations produced full, compact Pinotage bunches, but bearing too heavily. Merlot developed lovely flavours. Shiraz ripened very early and is showing above average colour. Cabernet Sauvignon had smaller berries with good colour. Waterberry was prevalent in ripe bunches.

Issued by: Yvette van der Merwe, Manager: Information Services - SAWIS (S A Wine Industry Information & Systems)
Tel: +27 (0) 21 807-5719