Stellenbosch and Helderberg sitting pretty

Zorgvliet and Le Pommier wines' new glass-walled tasting area and cellar is on the Franschhoek side of Banghoek, a stone's throw from Thelema. Consultant winemaker Bruwer Raats might be making his third vintage, but new ownership and reorganisation of brands means the cellar declined inclusion in the industry's unofficial telephone directory, John Platter 2003. The hotline to pressing and punching is +27 (0) 21 885-1049.

Raats is pressing his first Merlot, with Cabernet Franc harvested this week, and Shiraz soon. Cabernet Sauvignon is still far off. 'We've implemented electron probing so water is better managed. More intense fruit concentration has resulted in the grapes,' comments Raats. He reckons 2003 will outshine 2002, but is a 'little warmer' than 2001, hence it should favour reds over whites. Raats' private label is two-thirds done. He's taken off Chenin Blanc destined for the unwooded Raats Original, from Bottelary and Paarl's Simonsberg. One block hanging in the upper Helderberg, should come off this week (for the wooded Raats), while Cabernet Franc is 'ticking on very nicely'.

In the Simonsberg of Stellenbosch, Shaun Turnbull has hit the halfway mark during his second Slaley vintage. He says cooler overall temperatures mean that Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage were in 10 days earlier than 2002. Turnbull predicts that 2003 will be a 'much better vintage' for Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz. 'Vintage started off very quick, then everything dipped. It's now at a nice pace. We could be looking at 2001's quality,' he suggests.

In the 'golden triangle' area, Louis Strydom is very excited about berry to must ratios of reds at Rust en Vrede. He's had good colour and tannin intensity at lower sugars, hence avoiding the need to over-extract. 'If we look only at the viticultural side, I'd rate 2002 as 8 out of 10 - one of the best I've ever been a part of. On the wine side, my Merlot is still on skins so I can't really assess yet.' Strydom says he's noticing the earlier ripening rates of new clones - the older Merlot clone is still on the vine, but newer Cabernet Sauvignon clones are already in the cellar. 'It just shows how leafroll virus puts a break on normal tannin ripening'. 

Golfing fans should note that the Simonsberg Petit Verdot and Merlot, and Helderberg Cabernet Franc grapes destined for the Ernie Els label, are still hanging. The maiden 2000 vintage sold out in four weeks, despite its hefty R400 bottle tag. Strydom reckons first-time buyers go for the name, but repeat buyers will go for quality in bottle.

Helderberg and Devon Valley are looking extremely promising, according to Martin Meinert of Ken Forrester and Meinert Wines. 'We're only about a third of the way through harvest, so much can still happen, but there's very slow sugar development, which on reds is very exciting. It means we might be able to avoid those massive blockbuster wines,' says Meinert. He is concerned about grey rot on Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc though, from last week's rain.

At Lushof in the Helderberg, Daniel Hudson made the 2002 Sauvignon Blanc as a 'job interview'. When it took a Michelangelo gold, he was asked to stay. This English former flying winemaker is now getting hooked on Stellenbosch. By his own admission, the barrel-fermenting 2003 Chardonnay is looking 'absolutely immaculate' and some of his Sauvignon Blanc has fermented dry. 'Both varieties are looking fantastic - which seems to be the word all over the Helderberg.' Hudson is taking in first-crop Shiraz this week, Cabernet Sauvignon is a long way off, and Merlot is 'dragging' at 24°. 

Like many in Stellenbosch, Hudson says sugars seem to have stopped, but benefits will come to those with patience. Let's see who has the nerve to wait it out.
This article was sponsored by Distell WineNews Service