Harvest 2024

The festive season for South African sparkling wine producers is usually shorter than some of their still wine making compatriots. While some winemakers are still standing ankle-deep in beach sand with a fishing rod in hand, enjoying well-deserved time off, others have to pack up the bikes and boogie boards to get back to the winery. That’s because the grapes destined for Cap Classique need to be picked earlier than Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay or Merlot. The first week in January is when the first bunches are snipped from the vines – and already social media has reflected photos of the first truck loads of grapes making it to the winery.

Naturally winemakers Pieter Ferreira and Pierre de Klerk of Graham Beck Wines in Robertson were snapped in action welcoming the 41st vintage of the grapes earmarked for their singular Cap Classiques to the cellar. Similarly, the Grier family of Villiera in Stellenbosch, long one of the pioneers of bubbly production in South Africa, are still firmly in harness for their three-year handover or transition period having sold the family venture established in 1983 to Les Grand Chais de France last year. Their winery has also seen truckloads of grapes arrive, destined for their Tradition range.

It might also be Villiera’s 41st harvest but 2024 marks South Africa’s 365th, since Jan van Riebeeck etched the date of 2 February 1659 into his diary by remarking that the first grapes were crushed at the Cape of Good Hope on that day.

In conversation with a Stellenbosch winemaker last week, he mentioned that – in places – veraison (where green grapes begin to change colour to become “red” grapes) was a week to two weeks earlier than usual. But, having looked at the 2024 harvest forecast published by South African Wine, the head of consultation services, viticulturist Etienne Terblanche noted that the country had experienced an early spring.

“The first bud break occurred two weeks earlier than the previous season,” he wrote. The good news was that budding percentages were “consistently high and particularly even”, something he said was attributable to the excellent winter conditions in 2023.

Top image: Budbreak was two weeks earlier than usual but consistent and even

A somewhat guarded and conservative report was released in December 2023. The anticipation is that harvest 2024 will be “somewhat larger” than the relatively small harvest experienced in 2023 – however, it’s still likely to be lower than the average harvests of the past decade.

Yet speaking to Gary Jordan of Jordan Wine Estate a few days ago, he said their grapes weren’t any earlier than anticipated. “It’s looking on track for a pretty normal February start for us,” he said.

It’s said that nothing in life is guaranteed, except death and taxes – but in the next few weeks, more and more tractors will be seen throughout the winelands, towing wagonloads of ripe grapes, green and red. Harvest 2024 is already a reality.

Top image: At Weltevrede in Robertson, there’s a mosaic artwork depicting an ancient harvest scene

Blog by Fiona McDonald