2014 – A hat-trick vintage

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

DGB’s 30-year veteran oenologist Jaco Potgieter said it’s the first time he has seen three large vintages in succession: “We had a cold, wet winter and a fantastic spring and early summer with cool, European-like weather to late December.”

“It was shaping up as a perfect year, as good as 2009, but we had some unseasonal rainfall and, as we know, we have a heat wave in most Cape vintages, it’s just a matter of when and how severe. This year it was mid-February, so with the later-than-usual ripening we had early- and mid-season varieties ripening together in some regions. However, there was much relief with a cooler March,” said Potgieter.

Although the Sauvignon Blanc is currently a little shy, Potgieter was excited about the Chenin and Chardonnay in particular. With reds he felt it was too early to tell, with the exception of early-ripening Pinotage, which he said was looking very promising.

KWV viticulturist Marco Ventrella reported that the coastal and Breede River regions had a wetter summer than the 40-year average and that the coastal areas had deceptively large crops, particularly after nitrogen-rich rains in November. “We received heavier bunches with larger berries that didn’t really show on the vines, it’s a high yield and a high-quality vintage,” said Ventrella. It was KWV’s largest crop of the deregulated era.

“It was almost too good for the vines; they had an idyllic first half of the season, including no wind in flowering, and were not exactly hardened for the stresses of the second half. During late February we were taking in all varieties and I am particularly excited about Sauvignon, Chenin and Cabernet from the Swartland and Wellington, while Petit Verdot looks fantastic,” said Ventrella, who also welcomed a cooler March.

The unseasonal rain benefitted dryland areas like the Swartland, with producers excited about how these wines will show, as they did not stress as much as in drier years.

SA giant Distell reported 2014 as one of the best vintages experienced by the company in recent years. “Measured in terms of our ability to bring in grapes at optimal sugar levels with well-balanced ripeness, this vintage stands out for exceptional quality.”

GM for grape and wine supply, Erhard Wolf, confirmed that Distell’s yields were 11% up on last year, compared with the industry average of 5% higher for comparable wine-growing areas. “Although, as a whole, the South African grape wine harvest is expected to be about 2% down on last year.”

Callie van Niekerk, who heads the winemaking teams, said the harvest had delivered excellent colour for reds and outstanding flavour all round, with excellent fruit sugar and acid balance.

Despite a challenging season characterised by high, often untimely rainfall, the South African wine industry expects an average-sized, good-quality wine grape harvest, with exceptional harvests in the coastal areas, according to VinPro, the representative organisation for close to 3 600 South African wine producers.

Meanwhile, Chile and Argentina also had extreme weather conditions to deal with, which have impacted negatively on yield. Winemakers across Argentina say heavy rain and low temperatures in February have impacted this year’s harvest, with white wine production down by as much as 30%.

Chile’s growing season started badly, with widespread frosts in mid-September affecting most of the country and dropping the annual production by 25–50% in most regions, with whites and early-ripening reds hit hardest.

Growers from Australia are reporting that quantity is down but quality is up, while New Zealand is expected to have a new record harvest this year, some 55 000 tonnes greater than its previous high.

Rabobank recently reported 2013 as a watershed year, with 50% of all New World wine exports coming from bulk supplies. Reports from the bank for 2014 Q2 showed that bulk and bottled wine are now equal, which is a 25% increase in bulk over the last decade.

Rabobank said that South Africa’s bulk wine benefited from rising prices, while bulk and bottled wine business from a softer rand and improved cellar technology. Bottled wine exporters have boosted sales by focusing in less traditional markets – mainly African countries – but also China.

Bulk wine exporters must have efficient supply and logistics models, while bottled wine’s success is becoming increasingly allied to strong brands, said the report. “Bottled wine exporters that continue to compete predominantly on price, rather than brand strength, will find it increasingly difficult to compete with the bulk wine business,” it stated.

– Jonathan Snashall