Whether it is part of the global trend seen over the past few years, or a complete aberration (only time will tell), but this year’s harvest is undoubtedly early. A combination of factors has brought many of our picking dates forward by up to three weeks compared to last year. The main contributing factor was the dry conditions experienced during Spring, which have persisted throughout the summer. Thankfully, we have not experienced too much heat, though the usual warmer weeks in February played a role in accelerating optimal ripeness.
This year we have had to juggle like professionals as the most challenging feature of the 2023 harvest has been the concertina effect causing many of the different cultivars ripening at similar times. Few people realise that each grape variety has a particular ripening time. It begins in spring when budburst differs in timing depending on the cultivar. Added to this is the specific vineyard site. In our case, in a place with a higher altitude and less morning and evening sunshine, the harvest will normally be later than in areas with contrasting elements.
Nonetheless, everything has to ripen at some point, and when things come early, those points are much closer together. Our primary decision point is taste. Are the flavours where Nic and Christo want them, and are the phenolic elements such as skin, pips and related tannins optimally ripe? Our harvesting team pick early in the morning, into small ‘lug’ boxes, which head into the cool room with minimal delay. This brings their temperature rapidly down to 4°C, allowing us to maintain the cold-chain. This allows us to stagger the processing of the grapes perfectly. For me, the substantial energy needed for the cool room being drawn from the solar panels on the cellar roof is a godsend, particularly given the current load-shedding debacle. This year we have managed to perform whole bunch pressing on all the white grapes. Although this does take a few hours longer per batch than destemming and crushing, it results in a gentler press and optimises the phenolics from skin contact, which Nic prefers.
Our attention to detail across all the variables (of which there are many) of the harvest has never been better. A culmination of the learning curve, but I think the real driver that always puts a smile on my face is the positive team spirit that is abundantly evident and comes from having two talented individuals – Nic and Christo setting the pace and leading their people through the tough daily challenges. Bravo!
This month we have released our Oldenburg Vineyards Chardonnay 2022. You can enjoy more on that in the TeleView, where Nic and Stefan taste and discuss this wine. I can tell you that Nic and the team have yet again nailed it – this wine is terrific!
This harvest, we have brought our Terraces Syrah block back into production. This site is one of the windiest on the farm, and the previous trellising was not suited to these harsh conditions, with the wind causing the vine to shred itself on the wires on the windier days. We decided to augment the vines into a bush vine, so we cut it about 30cm from the ground and have now been waiting several years for them to be regrown and bear fruit. Back in the days with Covid-19 preventing travel, one of our consultants did Zoom calls from Italy to advise us on the pruning methodology – directly to the team in the vineyard. This first harvest of this newly formed, rugby-ball shaped vines will bring us a Syrah component with a bit of white pepper spiciness – great to have it back in the mix.
With all the acceleration in harvest, the king of grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon – continues to sit patiently, waiting for its turn to be picked in March. Nic tells me he is super excited by the developing quality, so we must wait patiently and hope the dry, cooler conditions continue for a few more weeks. There is always a degree of nervousness that one feels being at the mercy of the weather gods, but then again, that is farming!