2013 South African Harvest Overview – Initial Expectations

Thursday, 14 February, 2013
La Motte
“The winter before the harvest has an important role to play in the eventual quality of wine grapes. We need cold temperatures for decent dormancy and rain to replenish the water levels. Last year, we received both”, says La Motte cellar master, Edmund Terblanche.
Talking to a few of South Africa’s leading wine cellars from various areas, we have combined opinions on what to expect from the 2013 crop. Closer to the end of the harvest season, we will do a follow-up report to determine whether the 2013 vintage has delivered on expectations and to point out the differences between main wine growing areas in the Western Cape.
 
Rain:

With a very wet winter and around 35 percent more rain than average, underground water has been replenished and this year water does not seem to be too much of a concern. Even the Walker Bay area that suffered a two-year dry spell had enough rain to last the season. The last drenching rains fell mid-October and dry conditions ever since are welcomed in order to keep diseases at bay and to ensure optimal flowering.
 
Boela Gerber, winemaker at Groot Constantia says: “We had a perfect winter, very cold and almost 1300mm rain!”
 
And although a dry and warm December and January caused worries about soil humidity, the late rains ensure that vineyards are coping with the heat and windy conditions.
The past weekend’s rain also replenished soil moisture and water resources can now be used for post-harvest irrigation. For cultivars that are almost ready to harvest, the extra moisture and water might cause rot if the vineyards do not dry quickly enough. This is especially a danger for Semillon grapes. Late cultivars should be safer.
 
Temperature:
An exceptional cold winter ensured ample cold units. Spring conditions were mild to cool with more rain which was initially thought to postpone the season for about two weeks. Budding was proportionate and strong due to the good cold season and water levels.
 
But we also had heat. Not necessarily continuous heat waves, but according to Vinpro, the average temperature in December was the highest in 48 years. While enough foliage protected vines, some winemakers such as Abrie Beeslaar of Kanonkop in Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg ward, is slightly worried about the effect this exceptional heat will have on the quality of the grapes – especially for dry-land vineyards and late cultivars.
 
Heat conditions also accelerated ripening and the season is not as late as initially expected.
 
Wind:
Gale force South Eastern winds during November and December caused some damage to vines. Although shoot damage in areas such as Bot River is a reality, the harm was not more than expected for natural windy areas.
 
Wind damage to vines has resulted in a downward adjustment in crop estimates.
 
Strong winds have dried out the soil, but good dam levels ensure enough water for supplementary irrigation. Dry-land vineyards might however run into trouble.
 
It is not all bad though – windy conditions during ripening prevent diseases and ensure healthy grapes.
 
Volume:
Although Vinpro and winemakers in the Western Cape predict the harvest to be very similar in volume to 2012, with the possibility of a slight increase, according to SAWIs’s Wine Industry Information, there might be a slight decrease of 0.4% on the 2012 vintage – largely caused by the strong winds at the end of 2012.
 
On La Motte’s Nabot farm in Bot River, where draught conditions caused very low yields over the last two years, production seems to be back to normal and the harvest might even be 100% more than last year.
 
Quality:
“In South Africa we are blessed with the quality of most vintages. In my 27 years in the SA wine industry, I have never experienced a total failed harvest”, says De Grendel cellar master, Charles Hopkins.
 
Currently the quality looks exceptional and the first few analyses and organoleptic results confirm this. If the weather holds, the quality of the 2013 harvest can be above average to excellent.
 
Agriculture in the Western Cape can do with some positive energy and in the wine industry in general, there is a positive anticipation about the quality of the 2013 wine grape harvest.
 

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