Warmer Areas Mostly Wrapped Up

South Africa's biggest cellar has Pieter Verwey overseeing the Vredendal and Spruitdrift operations. With 71,000 tons of 80,000 white grapes expected at Vredendal, and Spruitdrift's 25,000 tons (of 27,000) in reds already in tank, Pieter says Westcorp International is up on 2006 volumes. 

‘There was a relative difference in quality after the January heatwave, and the ripening stages sped up a lot more. We had a good vintage from November to December/January, but the heatwave changed everything,' he moans. A projection? Not a bad year, with positive surprises in whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Colombard. The heat was good for reds; only cellar space and organization became problematic during simultaneous ripening of red cultivars. ‘We should wrap up within the next two weeks,' he predicts. ‘We're all looking at Easter as the goal.'

Martin Moore says around 25% of their grapes are outstanding in Durbanville - five farmers are picking of nine growers they source from. Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are on the waiting list, and around 6000 tons should be processed eventually. Martin says early varieties came in sooner than expected. His Sauvignon Blanc growers were spared the January heatwave effects because advance warnings sent them into a picking frenzy. Heavy rain in early February - ranging between 14mm to 24mm over two days - caused rot in Sauvignon Blanc, and the variety is down by 18 per cent. ‘It was more about a difference in picking timing than about quality differences this vintage,' says Martin. Cabernet bunches are smaller, and most of the Durbanville Merlot is still hanging. ‘We're fortunate though because the percentage we select for our own labels is fine, so I've got more than enough to select from this year.'

Klein Constantia harvests at similar times to white-focused neighbours Steenberg and Constantia Uitsig. ‘It was always going to be an early harvest after the late winter rain. So when spring did come there was a lot of soil moisture to get everything going rapidly,' explains winemaker Adam Mason. ‘We had ideal weather conditions during the ripening period which is the important bit - during harvest there's really not much you can do.'

Constantia was one of few areas to escape January's heatwave relatively unscathed. ‘Our temperatures didn't get above 34 degrees Celcius, and only lasted two days, so it was significantly cooler here. While Stellenbosch reds really sat, ours kept on ripening,' says Adam.

Whites and reds came in two weeks early, and Adam reckons 2007 is a ‘fantastic' Constantia white vintage. ‘For reds, we had 30mm of rain directly after the whites were harvested, so it gave the reds an extra bit of time to ripen.' The farm is currently harvesting Muscat de Frontignan for Vin de Constance and should be finished by April. ‘It's my fourth vintage and it's been the best so far without a doubt - a combination of brilliant weather and a cellar team who've really clicked.'

In Stellenbosch, Rustenberg's Adi Badenhorst reckons it's two weeks to go or bust. His personal pace has slowed somewhat after a nasty virus necessitated a hospital stint, but workers haven't slowed their tempo while picking Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘It's some of the best I've seen. And our Cab Franc is most prodigious - a prodigy. The Chardonnay was picked a week ago and it's really balanced. Shiraz still has to come in, but it's looking OK,' he reports. 

A Stellenbosch side effect of early heatwaves and heavy February rain is longer hang time. With Rustenberg the only farm to bottle a single-variety Roussanne, so far 2007 is looking mighty fine.

Boland Kelder's two Paarl cellars finished harvesting 22,351 tons from Paarl, Wellington, Malmesbury and Durbanville on Friday March 16th - their biggest harvest in 15 years. Winemaker Naudé Bruwer offers his perspective: ‘We had those four January heatwave days (temperatures ranged from 38 to 41 degrees Celcius) yet average quality turned out better than we expected. Perhaps just not better than last year.'

Cellarmaster Altus le Roux says Boland's volumes are 4% up on last year. ‘The white wines are more fruit-driven, especially Sauvignon Blancs. Tannins on reds are softer, so I think it's a better quality year. It would've been an outstanding vintage if we didn't have that heatwave,' Altus contemplates, but at least he has a seaside Easter weekend to look forward to. ‘The winemaking was easy enough this year, but the marketing is getting harder! It's difficult but possible.'

Warmer areas might be wrapped up, but Paul Cluver Estate's winemaker Andries Burger says some Elgin producers are just getting into the swing. Paul Cluver has picked 75% in volume, but Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc will push their finish date to Easter at least.

‘Andrew Gunn of Iona only just started a week ago. We finished Sauvignon on Thursday March 15th and Pinot Noir the day before, in our higher-lying vineyards (520m). There's awesome quality,' he reports. ‘Weather quite detrimental to other areas didn't affect us as we hadn't even started harvesting yet. What did have an influence on picking was rain - I harvested my Pinot earlier than usual to miss it.' In early February, Paul Cluver farm had 43mm, then another 16mm. ‘2007 is more of a winemaker's vintage - you have to have patience and pick at optimum. It's not that easy.'

Van Loveren cellar produces South Africa's largest privately owned brand, and Bussell Retief says their farm in the Robertson/Worcester area had a record harvest - 20% up. Their farm nearer Bonnievale had more regular volumes, pushing their overall total up 5% on harvest 2006.

‘It was difficult in the beginning - the heatwave affected the whites, especially Chardonnay,' he recalls. ‘It didn't affect reds much, but they ripened later because of cooler weather later. We didn't have the early February rain other areas experienced, so there was no rot.'

Van Loveren is bringing in the last of their Cabernet Sauvignon. ‘We started on January 17th and will only finish around about March 25th. We've put our 2007 Sauvignon, Blanc de Blanc and a light wine into bottle - I've already drunk a couple!'