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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  04 May 2010

FRUIT & BEVERAGES: Tough 2010 Grape Harvest


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Spring rains, severe southeast winds and the unseasonal hail that preceded this year’s ripening season, as well as a 10-day summer heat wave,  made the 2010 harvest one of the most labour-intensive and logistically demanding vintages in recent memory. This is according to Distell’s chief of grape and wine supply, Erhard Wolf, whose company accounts for a third of South Africa’s still and sparkling wine production. 

Although crops for the production of our wines were some 12% to 15% down, we are pleased with overall quality.  Alcohol levels across red and white varietals were well-managed in the vineyards, making for refreshing and well-balanced wines.  We can expect to see some exceptional results from this year’s harvest, especially Pinotage and Chardonnay but not confined to these two varietals.   The rainy, humid conditions late in the picking season, followed by drier weather, meant the rare and very desirable botrytis cinerea fungus could flourish to create fruit of rich and exquisite intensity for noble late harvest wines. ”

Nederburg Edelkeur is an example of a botrytised wine that has attracted an international following.

He explained that the adverse vintage conditions had been overcome through access to sophisticated weather-station data, research and an extensive team of viticulturists working across Distell’s own farms and in close concert with supplier growers. 

Close vigilance of weather conditions allowed us to plan ahead and act swiftly in terms of vineyard management. Distell employs some of the country’s most talented and experienced viticulturists, whose immediate, on-the ground decisions helped to ameliorate the risk of weather-related vine diseases and to minimise the wind and hail damage to fruit in the lead-up to the picking season.  Careful planning during the harvesting period itself also ensured grapes could be optimally harvested by working at dawn, at night and on week-ends.

The enormous intra-vineyard variation in budding, flowering and ripening times necessitated far more time in the vineyards than usual but we were geared up for the challenge.  We also turned to new grape and wine sources to make up shortfalls where they did occur.  So despite the smaller harvest, we are on track to meet demand.”

However, he did say that yields in organic vineyards, representing a very small part of the company’s production, had suffered heavy losses.  “There is no way you can outwit the weather if you follow accredited organic wine-growing protocols and we were not prepared to make any compromises in terms of spraying to save the grapes.  On one of our biggest farms, yields from organically grown vines were down by as much as 80%.”

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