De Wetshof Vineyards in fine form before a happy landing

Tuesday, 15 January, 2013
De Wetshof
Danie de Wet likens the last few weeks before any grape harvest to a pilot about to land an aeroplane on a challenging runway amidst tricky weather conditions. “You know where you want to be, but getting there depends on a few critical decisions which can make the difference between success and failure,” he says. “One wrong move and it can be tickets.”
With the grapes on De Wetshof Estate having reached veraison later than usual, it is now a matter of finely-tuned irrigation and deft canopy management.

“The fruit is there and the sugars are climbing as the grapes progress towards ripeness,” he says. “But of course, you want the correct degree of ripeness with the balance between sugar, acid and pH at levels being in line with the quality and style of the wine you desire. So what you want straightened out, needs to be done in the vineyard – once the grapes are in the cellar, there is no turning back.”

Despite De Wet’s cautious approach, he is taken with current vineyard conditions so far. “2009 was the best harvest I have ever experienced on De Wetshof. If the weather gods are kind to us, 2013 can be just as superb, although you are always gambling with nature when making such predictions.”

The cold, wet winter ensured a deep slumber for the vines, with bud-break and flowering commencing a week or so later than usual. “When the first summer heat came it was in December and I’d rather have heat in December than January, which has been relatively cool so far. After that mid-December heat-wave the vines took off, growing like anything – so much so that I had to stop irrigation to tone things down a bit.”

Canopy management, topping and the breaking of shoots have tempered vigorous growth, and the irrigation programme is one of military precision with vineyard stress-levels monitored on a constant basis.

Explains vineyard manager Johann de Wet, “Yes, we have made things difficult for ourselves by committing to single vineyard, terrain-specific production, especially in our Chardonnay wines,” he says. “Each vineyard has a different soil type and within each vineyard, soils can differ in clay and shale content, for example. This means that the clay parts have to be irrigated to different levels than the rockier parts, and the plants’ reaction to the irrigation levels monitored on constantly. “But hey, that’s the price you pay for aiming to make wines with identity and focus.”

Veraison commenced in the first week of January, so Danie says he is aiming to harvest a week or two later than the average, with the first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for Méthode Cap Classique being ready in the last 10 days of January. “The Chardonnay for our terrain-specific wines won’t be in the winery before February, and with 70% of our production committed to Chardonnay it is going to be a busy three to four week period.”

But a bit of rebuilding in the winery has led to more space and an open working environment, ensuring a harvest landing which is as gentle as possible.