As I write it’s nearly mid-February and Harvest 2019 in the Cape is gathering steam. What will it bring?  Taking a break from the cellar, a few winemakers tell me their experience so far.

Méthode Cap Classique producers are first to harvest; Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira and his team began on 7th  January and finished by 6th February. Drawing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from ten different areas across the Cape, including the Robertson home farm, Ferreira describes quality as ‘good but not superb’, the biggest challenge coming from uneven ripeness especially in Stellenbosch Chardonnay. This is a recurring theme with both Chardonnay and Shiraz across the winelands due to unfavourable conditions during flowering.

Harvest is rarely a smooth progression. Ernst Bruwer, owner of Mont Blois in Robertson, comments; ‘We started roughly a week later than 2018 but due to January’s heat, we’re currently on par with last year.’ Being caught off guard by the speed of ripening is another story related by many.  

Both Bruwer and Ferreira say yield is down anything between 10% – 20%;  in Bruwer’s area of Robertson extreme drought conditions persist; these will impact the next two harvests.

Benguela Cove sorting table credit Samarie Smith

A more regular start date is recorded by the Reyneke team on Stellenbosch’s Polkadraai Hills, with Sauvignon Blanc picked so far. A slightly lower yield is counteracted by ‘Great quality with incredible concentration of flavour,’ rejoices Johan Reyneke, with Cellarmaster, Rudiger Gretschel adding; ‘Healthy grapes with an unbelievable analysis: low ph, high malic acid, both a mark of the cool growing conditions.’ The new farm being fully certified organic and biodynamic means a larger crop for winemaker, Nuschka de Vos.

To the cooler coastal areas, first Elgin, where Elgin Ridge’s Brian Smith notes harvest started around 10 days earlier than usual; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for MCC came in on 4th February, yield is similar to 2018, even ripening, with excellent quality and analysis. Elgin is one area unaffected by drought. ‘We’ve not irrigated since 2009,’ Smith confirms.

Further south, in Walker Bay, Benguela Cove’s Johann Fourie began harvesting his grapes for MCC on 16th January; ‘Then it speeded up with Shiraz, Semillon, Merlot and Cab Franc joining the rest.’ The upside again is excellent quality, ‘with phenolic ripeness at much lower sugar levels,’ smiles Fourie. Below average yields is a knock-on effect of the drought.

Benguela Cove cellar credit Johann Fourie

Craig Wessels, owner/winemaker at Restless River in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, took in his first (Chardonnay) grapes on 11th February. This compares with Pinot Noir lower down the valley harvested in the last week in January. Wessels anticipates an exciting year for Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to long, cool, late ripening of 2019. In a first, he is also tackling Pinotage from ‘a fantastic vineyard’ nearby, his goal ‘a near obsessive effort to bottle the vineyard, not the variety.’

In cool Constantia, Justin van Wyk expects harvest to get underway at both Constantia Glen and Beau Constantia around 20th February; so far, there’s excellent ripening of a healthy crop. For his own Van Wyk Family Wines, the old vine Chenin Blanc already harvested from Wellington and Darling show remarkably good acidity with yields around 25% higher than 2018.

Finlayson 1st harvest Syrah from Jeffrey’s Bay credit David Finlayson

Finally, so what’s new? How about a first crop of Syrah and Grenache from Jeffreys Bay, the ultimate surfers’ paradise in the Eastern Cape? David Finlayson, owner/winemaker of Stellenbosch farm, Edgebaston, planted experimental vineyards there, mainly due to his serious concern about the long-term effects of climate change. He anticipates a yield of one barrel. Its WO is also new, St Francis Bay.

- Angela Lloyd