The 2003 harvest rounded up

If foreign taste for South African Sauvignon Blanc continues, producers could have bumper sales. Competitor New Zealand is reporting that spring frosts sent overall yields down 25 per cent, and this variety has been affected. Interestingly, kiwi harvests aren't over yet, whereas South Africa's major wine areas brought their last grapes in weeks ago. Here's a quick look back.

'Sauvignon Blanc? Brilliant, much better than 2002,' reports Steenberg's John Loubser from Constantia. 'We've had two outstanding vintages: 1997 and 2001. This year is looking similar, with typical Constantia green pepper flavours.' He also rates Steenberg's and Constantia Uitsig's Semillon, noting that they have record Chardonnay quantities. Constantia reds aren't as promising, thanks to rain, unless they're early ripeners.

Rain also hampered the Hemel en Aarde Valley, with Gordon Newton-Johnson saying many cellars had good flavours, but he'd heard of mixed ripening results, with pH and sugar levels 'all over the place' for some. In nearby Elgin, Andries Burger says harvest started earlier. '1997 is still the vintage for whites - but 2003 is fairly good. We expected more of the grapes originally, but in tank Sauvignon Blanc turned out fine. In reds, it's a great vintage for Pinot and earlier ripeners - if harvested before that end-of-March 120 mm.'

Robertson and Montagu were declared national disaster areas after river flooding wreaked havoc, but most wineries were spared because floods were very localised. Cellars including Bloupunt, Van Loveren and Zandvliet had damaged vineyards, irrigation systems or vehicles, and lost topsoil. Bloupunt reported 300mm of rain over 30 hours on March 24, while Van Loveren's flooded cellar caused packaged wine losses worth R9m. Springfield in Robertson was one cellar spared, and Abrie Bruwer says they had a bigger total crop. His Sauvignon Blancs are 'nice and full wines, not really racy things'. Bruwer is optimistic enough to compare his 2003 reds to 1995. 

From the Helderberg in Stellenbosch in March, Rust en Vrede's Louis Strydom noted good colour and tannins at lower sugar levels. Viticulturally, he rated the 2003 vintage 8 out of 10. He assigns the same scores to developing reds now. Stable temperatures with limited extreme heat have resulted in Helderberg reds with intense colours and wide flavour spectrums. Rain affected late-ripening varieties however. At Neethlingshof, assistant winemaker Emden Viljoen says volumes were down but quality is 'very good'. She rates Sauvignon Blanc in whites, with Shiraz and Pinotage, plus selected Cabernet Sauvignon blocks, in reds.

Pieter du Toit of the Swartland's Kloovenburg Vineyards predicted good 2003 wines, and he's sticking to that. He rates Swartland Chenin Blanc and Shiraz in particular. His own Shiraz has finished malo and will be 'put away for a year', but he reminds that exact predictions are dicey because wine is a 'lewendige ding!'

South Africa Shiraz has competition from Australia's Barossa and Hunter Valleys, where some 2003 Shiraz sizzlers are predicted. Reports from the Australian Wine Export Council say Hunter Valley Shiraz have 'the highest concentration in years'. As New South Wales has been through a long drought, what else could be expected? 

In Durbanville, Riaan Oosthuizen of Durbanville Hills predicted some cracker Shiraz early on, and he's now saying all reds - especially from younger blocks - have performed. The cellar rates 2003 as one of 'the best over 5 - 10 years' for whites and reds. WOSA is singing a similar tune, noting that 2003 vintage could be 'one of the finest in recent years'. They're forecasting a 7.5 per cent volume increase, with marked improvements from Stellenbosch and Paarl. 

In Paarl, Plaisir de Merle's Niel Bester says the total harvest is smaller, but 2003 reds have good colour and intensity, low pHs and good acidities. 'The Cab and Shiraz have very good fruit. The Merlot too, thanks to more moderate temperatures. In whites it's a Chardonnay rather than Sauvignon year.' Veenwouden's Marcel van der Walt was upbeat about 2003 during harvest, comparing it to the bumper 1998. He's still punting that line: 'It's been very good in Paarl. Guys are very happy with red quality - lovely flavours, fantastic colours and concentration. Luckily I finished before those March rains, which would've dropped sugars.' Van der Walt doesn't hedge any bets: 'It should be a stunning year all round for South Africa - I think 2003 will stand out!'

This article was sponsored by Distell Wine News Service