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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  03 Jun 2012

FOOD & BEVERAGES: Distell's Wine Plans Pay Off Handsomely


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ONGOING research into ripening and ideal harvest times is proving a major advantage to Distell’s winery operations. “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,” says Callie van Niekerk, who heads up this Stellenbosch-based operations.

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 says a strong company focus is 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.”

Distell’s production recipe must be working well for the company as it reports that the 2012 wine harvest has produced excellent quality aromatic whites and reds of intense colour and well-balanced ripeness, according to van Niekerk.

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 says: “In the main, we are 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 says 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.

The company is 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.

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