Vintage prospects for 2014

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Vintage 2014 is looking promising for vintners in Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, with views ranging from ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘very excited’. A cold, wet winter meant vines enjoyed extended rest and a full re-charge, while cooler soils in spring lead to later bud burst.

However, unseasonal summer rain high in nitrogen added to vine vigour. During the humid weather, perfect conditions arose for downy mildew, but attentive and alert growers ‘were on top of it’, said Stark-Condé’s José Conde. With unusual shades of European vintages, growers are concerned about additional summer rain. “I am really worried about disease pressure,” said one grower.

There were similar challenges in all the regions. Conventional growers needed one or two extra systemic sprays while with organic growers timing of contact applications like copper were very important. “We had to work hard, putting in late hours after dark and on Sundays – experience really counted this year,” said Johan Reyneke of Reyneke Wines. “We are about two weeks late. The canopies are looking good, yields are up, our young vines performed well. I am really excited (about 2014).”

Some producers have already started harvesting, like Ken Forrester who is harvesting Chenin Blanc for their Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). “I am very relieved to start receiving fruit due to high disease pressure as a result of humidity. I’m worried about more unseasonal rains, after the late spring rains and additional recent rains, but we have had a very gentle climatic growing season including cool nights. It should bode well for most varietals, and generally phenolic ripeness could be better than last year, but there is some uneven berry set and millerandage (uneven berry growth) due to the late spring rains,” said Forrester. “All in all a great crop, maybe slightly bigger than last year, so far no stress symptoms, so nice ripening taking place.”

In Jonkershoek, Conde said, indications are for a good Cabernet Sauvignon year with the vineyards showing good balance after little wind during fruit set and bigger than usual canopies, leading to balanced fruit to leaf ratio even though yield is at a 10-year high. Conde now expects to harvest around their usual time following predictions it would be about 10 days late.

Remhoogte’s Chris Boustred said his crop is looking good.  “Yield is at a four-year high, we had even budding and véraison was quick on the reds,” said Boustred. “We are about two weeks late. We are definitely enjoying cooler nights, and although we have a touch of botrytis, we have very happy vines.”

La Motte’s Ed Terblanche said Franschhoek was also enjoying better diurnal temperature ranges after a good winter with plenty of water. “Like many regions, we have had to put in extra work to manage canopies,” said Terblanche. “We have had less spring wind and, despite some earlier predictions of lower yield, we are expecting a higher yield. In a good example of self-regulation Shiraz is showing a lighter yield, although we had to reduce crop on our other Rhône reds. Analysis is looking good at this stage.”

Gottfried Mocke at Chamonix also spoke of a good crop after better fruit set. “The soils are vibrant and vines robust after such a good winter, we needed to green harvest, while extra canopy work and managing mildew has added to costs,” said Mocke. “We have had even set, better than usual with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Cooler nights are preserving the acids, so it could be a good year. Now it depends on when the hot spell arrives.”

Reports out of Paarl suggest a good year for Cab and Merlot. Fairview’s Donald Mouton reports high rainfall for Agter-Paarl in November, while additional cold units delayed budding. The rains were so rich in nitrogen that growers did not need to fertilise. However, once again in 2014 additional costs were incurred in managing canopy vigour.

Marius Cloete at Glen Carlou echoed concerns over downy mildew. “It seems everybody saw a little downy as conditions were perfect for it,” said Marius, “but we are enjoying beautifully cooler nights and Arco (the winemaker) is encouraged by how well we are retaining acids. The reds are looking good and other than touches of rot, the whites are looking healthy.”’

Despite the threat of fungal diseases, most growers have it under control and are encouraged by cooler nights – and that many good Cape vintages have been preceded by long, cold, wet winters.

– Jonathan Snashall