Waterford Estate harvest report 2024

Wednesday, 3 April, 2024
Waterford Estate
“Focused, defined, concentrated and balanced, the reds of the 2024 vintage summed up in four words.” - Mark le Roux, cellarmaster at Waterford Estate.

The unique weather conditions experienced throughout the year have set the stage for what promises to be a standout vintage for Waterford Estate, with a smaller harvest and more concentration the wines crafted from the 2024 vintage showcase the resilience of the vines and the artistry of winemaking.

The Helderberg Mountain started the season with a wetter-than-usual winter, receiving 950 mm of rainfall compared to the typical 650 mm, with September seeing the brunt of this downpour. This extreme precipitation was a promising start, offering a cold and rejuvenating dormancy phase for the vines. The extended and wetter rest period allowed the vines to recover and store energy, laying the foundation for a strong growing season. Having ample energy stores is essential to a healthy harvest, as the stronger the vine's shoots are the more nutrients will be transported to the grapes

Keermont's winemaker, Alex Starey, summed up the vintage: "The wetter start led to great growth on the vines with the dry, heat starting around December onwards but what was on show was the health and resilience of the vines as they grew strong and green."

The spring or growing season that followed was characterised by moderate growth, the dry conditions and constant winds saw a more narrow canopy form with strong healthy leaves to grab the available sunlight. A narrow canopy requires a careful hand from David van Schalkwyk and his viticultural team but this narrower shape is preferred throughout the industry. A commonly used technique in vineyard preparation is called green harvesting, the act of removing excess plant material to allow the vine to focus energy on the larger, more healthy shoots, but this narrower canopy has less material and care must be taken before removing too much of the plant's energy-producing areas. David reiterated that the narrow canopy allows for greater light penetration thus ripening the grapes more effectively than that of a more leafy one.

According to Mark le Roux, a key factor in the quality of the 2024 harvest was the warm and dry ripening period along with the consistent wind throughout the season. While this led to lighter bunches due to flower loss, David van Schalkwyk finds a silver lining no matter the conditions saying that the “looser bunch structure allowed more airflow alleviating the risk of mold and enhanced light penetration, creating exceptional ripening conditions.” The lighter yield resulted in more concentrated nutrients in each berry, promising outstanding quality and complexity in the wines.

Alex Starey also commented on the smaller harvest saying that the conditions were not optimal during the flowering phase of the vine's cycle thus leading to the lighter crop size. However, the quality and health of the harvest are consistent with some of the best years in the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley.

Although years of experience have made David wary of Mother Nature, saying: "In our many years of farming grapes one thing we have learned is that you can always count on Mother Nature to throw you a curve ball." Hail, a damaging factor we seldom see in the Cape Winelands, further lightened the crop and damaged some of the vine's energy-producing leaves. This would phase a younger viticulturist, but the Waterford Estate vineyard team took it in their stride and worked hard to further protect the remaining bunches. From bird nets that inhibit the bird life from eating the crop to bags of dog hair to deter the indigenous buck life, the team racked their brains for creative solutions to these annual problems.

The Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards excelled during the 2024 season, demonstrating exceptional quality and terroir expression. The smaller berries developed in the looser bunches contributed to concentrated flavours, a characteristic noted by winemakers across the region. The emphasis on vineyard management, canopy control, and the art of green harvesting showcased the expertise of the Helderberg wineries in working with varying weather conditions.

This is a vintage where the winemaker's skill and understanding of the unique South African terroir is on full display, working with a lighter crop to craft authentic expressions of the viticultural diversity. Rich concentration and refined grippy tannins will be the continuous golden thread for the reds of 2024 as the dexterity and resilience of the vines show the road to elevated quality with every passing year.

Mark le Roux remarks on the incredible resilience of the vines as they increase in age, saying that they become more and more a part of the soil and the terroir, showing less inconsistency with vintage variation and a consistent improvement in overall quality.

The season was a short and fast-paced harvest, with the last grapes coming in two weeks ahead of when they normally would, Alex Starey examined their data and it showed that 2024 was the shortest harvest period ever recorded at Keermont Vineyards.

As the South African Winelands rest from the busy 2024 harvest, the winemakers and viticulturists carry the lessons of the previous season, leveraging the unique weather patterns to produce wines of unparalleled quality. The smaller, concentrated berries suggest a promising year, with the potential to rival some of the best vintages in recent history. The Helderberg Moutain and its wineries continue to prove their resilience and expertise, offering wine enthusiasts a delightful anticipation for the exceptional wines that will emerge from the 2024 harvest.