WINE: 2012 A Hurry Up And Wait Harvest
Recent Western Cape Business News
The 2012 harvest has produced excellent quality aromatic whites and reds of intense colour and well-balanced ripeness, according to Callie van Niekerk, who heads all Distell’s winery operations. This is despite the early January heat spikes that initially were a cause for concern, as well as shortages of water in some areas.
“Overall, yields are about 5% higher than last year. The average, however, doesn’t tell the full story of the crop losses in some dryland vineyards as a result of the lack of rain, nor of those areas that had access to supplementary irrigation and saw yields up by 10% to 15% on 2011.
Erhard Wolf, responsible for Distell’s grape and wine buying said: “In the main, we are very pleased with the outcome of a harvest that has not been without challenges. A cool winter allowed vines to go into proper dormancy. We were expecting a very different scenario with the cool start to spring and early summer which we thought would delay the start of the harvest. Then suddenly, the heat rose in early January and again in early February.
However, for the most part, February and March were relatively mild, making for long, slow and very beneficial ripening.
“What also enhanced quality was the drop in night time temperatures that in some instances were 1,5°C to 2°C lower compared with the average for February. This helped fruit to retain aromas and flavours.
“In the case of reds, the early heat, followed by cooler conditions later during ripening, helped to eliminate green flavours and produce optimally ripened berries at lower sugar levels and with soft but firm tannins.”
He said the berries were smaller than average with excellent skin to fruit ratios and that the standout red for this year was undoubtedly Shiraz but with top quality fruit also coming from Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Merlot vineyards.
“We are very excited by the whites across the board and the aromatic varietals like Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are looking excellent,” confirmed Van Niekerk. “The season has also been very good to the Muscat varieties for which there is now a significant international demand. We are also expecting some superb noble late harvest and special late harvest wines from this vintage.”
The company was both planting and sourcing Mediterranean varietals such as Grenache, Carignan, Tempranillo and Mourvèdre to meet market interest and that these were proving exceptionally well suited to local conditions.
Van Niekerk said Distell’s ongoing research into ripening and ideal harvest times was proving a major advantage to the company. “By planning wines in the vineyard, we follow different strategies where viticultural practices are matched with eventual wine style and price point. With the enormous diversity of offerings within our portfolio, our access to more detailed information about optimal ripening helps us plan with greater accuracy the harvest times of individual vineyard blocks and to co-ordinate the related logistics.
“Operating in such a complex environment means we need to be able to plan in detail to maximise the use of our cellar and other resources, manage costs as tightly as possible and control our environmental impact.”
He said a strong company focus was research into achieving optimal flavour development at lower sugar levels to reduce alcohol levels in wines, particularly in the face of warmer temperatures that were the result of climate change. “Worldwide there is a call for this across all varietals and styles. Our viticultural practices are continually being refined to better manage the impact of climate change so we can produce fruit of well-balanced ripeness with good colour, acid levels and flavour.”
Wolf added that Distell was in the very fortunate position of being able to source excellent fruit from across the Cape, particularly in the cooler-climate areas but also to compensate for shortfalls in those areas adversely affected by climatic conditions. “Low water reserves have really been an issue this season. We have the technology at our disposal to monitor soil moisture content very closely and to fine-tune irrigation, saving water as far as possible.
Careful canopy management, planting cover crops and strategic mulching also helped to counteract the impact of the dry conditions in some dry-farmed vineyards,” said Wolf.
He confirmed there was still capacity to extend plantings across prime wine-growing areas to ensure the steady access to top quality fruit to address future demands.
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