Durbanville Hills Cellar News - October 2013

Monday, 28 October, 2013
Durbanville Hills Cellar
For the last few weeks I have been trying, just like most other winemakers, to come to grips with what is happening in the vineyards at the start of the new vintage.
At the end of July, we all thought winter had left our shores, only to see it return with a vengeance bringing cold, wet spells in August which then continued into September and October. Because of the cold, the vines in most vineyards started budding later than usual and then also unevenly. Some buds got the message from the slight increase in temperature that the time had come for action. Other dozed on. Luckily, at this time of year, the soils are also getting warmer so the roots become active and start sending messages from below to the sleepy buds upstairs to get a move on.

My earlier visits to our producer-farms left me thinking we're in for an interesting vintage. It's going to require a lot of careful sampling and many vineyard visits to taste the grapes and get visual confirmation when will be the right time to pick. Fortunately, the last visit brought me a little more peace of mind when I noticed that the late buds had been spurred into action and were now playing catch up. Now it is a question of keeping our fingers crossed that cold, strong winds will stay away and that in their absence we shall enjoy balmy warm weather until the grapes are ready for picking (what, at the Cape? Forget it!).

Global warming or climate change?
Global warming or climate change? Many people seem to think the term global warming implies it is getting warmer everywhere, both as far as winter and summer temperatures are concerned. Given the pretty severe winter we have just had up here in the Hills one could argue global warming is just a fantasy.

However, call it climate change and suddenly you have a captive audience, as 200mm more than the average annual rainfall is certainly different. Factors associated with climate change include changes to the mean temperature, changes to the extreme temperatures such as heat waves at one end of the scale and ice and frost at the other. The frost that recently caused such extensive damage to vineyards in Chile is a prime example. According to reports it was the worst frost in 84 years, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. Crop losses in respect of early varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot noir are estimated at 30%.

Other changes include the change in the time and the amount of rainfall and here one is immediately reminded of France's "Vintage from Hell earlier this year when hail and flooding caused extensive damage to vineyards over a large on.

What defines cool climate?
There are so many references being made these days to cool-climate wine-growing regions that the question now regularly comes up: So what defines cool climate? That is not an easy one to answer for the cool-climate classification for viticulture has so many definitions that it confuses rather than clarifies.

Let us start by saying cool-climate areas are seldom large regions, but are mostly smaller pockets within bigger regions where a range of factors can influence the style of a wine to be more elegant, refreshing, lighter and have food-friendly characteristics that enhance the meal rather than kill the on.
What the eye can't see
Most of our vineyards in the valley can be scanned for patches that are different from the rest simply by driving up on the opposite hill and viewing the land from there. When you don't have the luxury of being able to do this it becomes slightly on.

The little bottle does it again
Our Durbanville Hills Rhinofields Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest has done it again. You can image that a long name like that would take up most of the space on a fair sized label, but then you still have to add a Veritas Gold sticker to the Michelangelo Double Gold and International Wine and Spirits Competition Gold Outstanding already there. So if you really want to appreciate the greenish yellow colour of this sweet sensation, you have to turn the bottle around and look at it from the back ... Hang on there, now that really sounds like bragging!

Yes, yes, I know that at the time, Al Gore got a Nobel Peace Prize for his famous documentary and I don't even know whether the man drinks wine, but nevertheless, let us raise our glasses to the awareness he brought through his timely wake-up call of just how fragile our world is.

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