De Wetshof mid-harvest report

Wednesday, 15 February, 2012
De Wetshof Estate
Since harvesting commenced in the week of 17 January, the weather patterns have been as varied and diverse as De Wetshof's soil types!
Whilst other parts of the Western Cape sweltered in temperatures of over 40°C, the persistent and cooling southerly breeze prevented temperatures on De Wetshof from skyrocketing during the first few days of harvest. When the heat did come, a few sweltering days were followed by a splatter of rain and then some electric thunder droned over the mountains, although at this stage the lightning storms were not as dramatic as last year when the main building was struck by lightning.

The long cool Spring has, however, set the harvest back a week to 10 days.

“The winter of 2011 started off relatively dry with below-average rainfall, yet temperatures were cold throughout,” says Danie de Wet, proprietor and cellarmaster at De Wetshof. “The cold winter soils gave the vines’ a sufficient period of rest. At the end of winter we irrigated to flush the soils ensuring that the vines could react to Spring growth in a fresh, clean environment – not only above the ground, but down below where the roots have to supply the necessary nutrients.”

The cool temperatures continued into Spring, but a few hot days caused inconsistent budding and flowering.

“Chardonnay – which constitutes some 70% of De Wetshof’s vineyards – budded towards the end of August, a couple of days later than usual and flowered end October, with some cold rain lashing down just after flowering, but not enough to do any noticeable damage,” says De Wet.

Towards middle of December vine-growth was so vigorous that irrigation was stopped to put the vines under controlled stress and harvesting of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for MCC commenced just over a week later than what would be called usual.

“On the whole, the season was a week to 10 days later than average,” says De Wet. “That scorcher of a week at the beginning of January occurred while the grapes were fortunately still cool, keeping damage to a minimum. Some batches of Pinot Noir, however, were afflicted by the heat as this variety does not have the resistance to heat that Chardonnay has.

“This led to some uneven ripeness in the Pinot Noir bunches, but then that is Pinot Noir for you – if nature is going to throw you a curve-ball it will strike the Pinot Noir! The bunches are, however, hand-sorted by trained teams so unwanted fruit does not pass into the systems.”

De Wet says that the immense heat at the beginning of January affected acidity in some Pinot Noir and Charonnay. “With that kind of heat, fruit in the process of ripening the vine begins to feed off the malic acids, leading to a drop in acidity. Fortunately the heat broke before lasting damage was done, and we are just so fortunate to have that southerly breeze fanning the vines.”

The picking teams on De Wetshof adhere to a stringent harvest programme to ensure fruit of optimum freshness.

“We begin harvest at 03h30 and the moment the barometer nudges 27°C, picking stops,” he says. “This allows the Chardonnay grape to regain its green colour, chemical stability and freshness once the heat has passed and the fruit cools down in the later afternoon and into the evening.”

Currently the Chardonnay for De Wetshof’s Limestone Hill and Bon Vallon wines are being brought in. The older vines, those from which the iconic Bateleur and The Site Chardonnays are made, will be picked later as their age causes the fruit to ripen later.

“This is always something to look forward to,” says De Wet. “Each year these two blocks – planted in 1986 and 1987 respectively – gives us and insight onto what Chardonnay is truly capable of in the terroir we chose all those years ago.”
Picking Pinot Noir on De Wetshof Estate
Picking Pinot Noir on De Wetshof Estate

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