If you want to go far: Bellingham Wines harvest report 2024

Wednesday, 15 May, 2024
With harvest 2024 now complete, it’s time to look at how the Bellingham team brings it all together.

Red or white – that's the question for most wine drinkers. For Bellingham's resident red winemaker, Richard Duckitt, and white winemaker, Ricardo Cloete, it’s a vocation. Each master of their realm, the duo works in symbiotic synchronicity – alongside each other but not directly together – extracting not rabbits from hats but a whole spectrum of flavours from the Cape vineyards. The result is Bellingham’s award-winning collection: three ranges and 15 wines. 

The capriciousness of mother nature

“It’s been a bit crazy. Harvest 2024 began an entire month earlier than last year, on the 26th of January,” opens Ricardo. “And what a start!” adds his co-winemaker Richard, “We were harvesting not just white grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but also Pinotage at the same time.”

A unique concurrence of factors prompted the exceptionally early start to harvest.  "Last year's ample rainfall and winter chill were ideal for grape development. The drought has eased, boosting water for irrigation, and the moderate season surprised us with less heat than anticipated," explains Ricardo. In addition, Richard adds that from mid-December to January, the Mother City’s notorious south-easterly gales disturbed fruit set. “It’s a double-edged sword, reducing yields but significantly increasing berry concentration,” explains Richard.

Luckily, these conditions were nothing the team couldn’t navigate. The smaller berries resulted in complex flavour profiles ideal for crafting top-quality wine. “Mother Nature is capricious but never leaves us in the lurch. She always gives us something to work with,” muses Richard.

White wines in review: An Albariño adventure

Harvest began with a flurry of Stellenbosch Chardonnay being picked for the Homestead range. “I'm quite impressed. The wine is already done with fermentation and looks fantastic,” shares Ricardo. Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc followed and are also in tank. According to Ricardo, the Homestead Chenin Blanc block promises a vibrant, approachable style, a delightful contrast to the powerful, structured Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc.

However, one varietal Ricardo is undoubtedly most excited about is Albariño, used for the soon-to-be-released 2024 vintage of the Bernard Series Motherblock Albariño. “As one of only a handful of wineries in the country that work with this variety, it's very special. We planted the 1-hectare single vineyard in 2020.

Located about 11km from the Atlantic Ocean, it offers a fresh nose of salted lemon and stone fruit.” Bellingham founder Bernard Podlashuk is celebrated for his daring vision, adventurous approach, and creative risk-taking that helped shape South African wine. “His tenacity and innovative flair inspired this Albariño – a distinctive and intensely aromatic white wine. This is a wine to look out for.” The total tonnage for the 2024 white wine harvest is approximately 500 tons.

Red wines in review: Climate-Smart grapes

White and red grapes kicked off harvest 2024 simultaneously – something new for Bellingham. Lasting eight weeks and ending on 15 March, the harvest was a good three weeks shorter than the previous year. "We've never harvested Pinotage in January before," reflects Richard. "Despite the shorter season, it's been a wonderfully consistent harvest, with fruit arriving daily, making things very manageable in the cellar.”

After Pinotage, pickings of Shiraz, Merlot, and Malbec followed. New varietal additions such as Alicante Bouschet, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Marselan were introduced. "These varieties may be unfamiliar to many South African wine drinkers," Richard explains, "but as our climate changes, their superior drought and heat tolerance make them logical introductions." This approach aligns with Bellingham’s sustainable and forward-thinking approach to winemaking. Other efforts include protecting and promoting biodiversity in the vineyards and introducing lightweight bottles and packaging that reduce carbon emissions during the production process.

Due to the smaller yields, on average, this year’s total crop size was down by about 15%. “Yes, there is a decrease, but overall, the harvest quality looks remarkable,” adds Richard. "I'm particularly excited about the Bernard Series Bush Vine Pinotage. 2024 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for Pinotage, and I can't wait to taste the ripe fruit flavours and earthy notes characteristic of this unique South African variety." The overall tonnage for the red varieties was 600 tonnes.

A tale of two winemakers

This vintage has seen both winemakers lean into innovative practices to enhance the quality and character of their wines. With all the grapes in, Ricardo is currently experimenting with different fermentation vessels. “We've switched from terracotta amphoras to ceramic pots for our white wine fermentations. Research showed that ceramic offers a more reductive environment, preserving freshness and preventing premature ageing."

Meanwhile, Richard is trialling whole-bunch fermentation and amphoras for a small-batch Shiraz, along with carbonic maceration for Grenache. Yet, while new technologies and techniques can streamline processes, Richard cautions that quality often benefits from a hands-on approach. "In winemaking, traditional methods often yield the best results – and for good reason. They’ve withstood the test of time. We embrace concrete tanks, manual techniques, and smaller batches, focusing on natural winemaking to ensure our wines express their unique character."

For these two winemaking maestros, it’s not about getting it done fast. "While we each have our specialities, we focus on mutual support. Beyond the white and red divide, we share responsibilities, with one of us taking the lead as needed. We've worked well together for years, and I value having another palate to consult, whether it's a quick taste check or refining a blend. This collaborative element ultimately creates better wines. We give each other the freedom to express individual strengths while knowing we have each other's support from the sidelines," ends Richard.

Echoing the wisdom of an old African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,” Richard, Ricardo and the Bellingham team’s journey is a testament to the power of collaboration in the pursuit of excellence.

At Bellingham Wines, we craft, and you enjoy.