Stellenbosch Wine Routes reflect on a challenging, but ultimately rewarding 2019 harvest

Tuesday, 30 April, 2019
Stellenbosch Wine Routes
In 2018, the Western Cape experienced the crescendo of one of its most severe droughts in decades. On average crops were 15% lower than the previous year, and it is safe to say that most farmers entered 2019 with a sense of trepidation.

However, with the harvest freshly put to bed, and with most of the grapes now fermenting in the cellars, wineries of Stellenbosch Wine Routes can collectively reflect on this year’s harvest. Overall, although the preceding drought resulted in a challenging vintage,most wineries predict that consumers can look forward to some exceptional wines.

At South Africa’s first Méthode Cap Classique producer, Simonsig Estate, harvest 2019 was off to an “anxious” start, following three years of drought in the Cape, but Johan Malan, owner and winemaker says vintage 2019 surprised in “quality and volume”. Especially Pinot Noir, used in the making of the estate’s world-famous Cap Classique wines, delivered excellent grapes. This is largely due to cooler periods during the grapes’ ripening periods, even in February, traditionally the winelands’ hottest month. “Early in the season grapes had beautiful acidities and lower pH levels, which is perfect for the making of Cap Classique base wines and cuvées. Red grapes had phenolic ripeness at lower sugar levels, which will result in elegant wines with lower alcohol levels,” says Malan.

Beyers Truter, owner of Stellenbosch’s famous Beyerskloof, agrees that harvest 2019 was “interesting and difficult” but not without its rewards.  According to Truter, this year winemakers had to spend a lot of time in the vineyards, to taste for ripeness (of the grapes), rather than to rely on historical data. “The 2019 crop on reds was difficult and interesting, but very cold nights and cool mornings with occasional rain made the colour and the flavour of grapes extremely good. The wines will go into oak now and they are showing very good potential.”

Johan Jordaan, senior red winemaker at Spier, says that although it is still “early days” the 2019 harvest seems to be a good marriage between the 2018 and 2017 vintages. “This vintage had more temperate conditions through early spring and summer which led to conditions being more favourable for slower ripening which resulted in more fruit expression on the wines,” says Jordaan.  He says that it was especially Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that “made his heart sing”: “this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon had more of a perfume character, and more feminine as well. Overall, 2019 will be a vintage where the great wines will be exceptionally great, and the average wines will be above average.”

It is not just the red wines that are showing promise, either. Viticulturist at L’Avenir, Leigh Diedericks, says that the property will once again be able to provide consumers with high quality white wines, particularly Chenin Blanc. “It was a particularly positive vintage for white wine varieties. The cooler conditions and associated lower sugar levels of the grapes will result in lower alcohol wines, which is in line with current market demands,” he said. 

However, although the wineries seem to agree that the quality of the 2019 vintage is without fault, the quantity of the overall harvest will remain a challenge for farmers:

Johann Krige, proprietor at Kanonkop, considered to be one of South Africa’s first growth properties,says that the later ripening grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular, were fantastic. “Consumers can look forward to excellent wines,” he said. However, he cautions that 2019 was a small crop and that the impact of this will be felt by the industry. “Consumer pressure and dwindling wine consumption will have a negative impact on Stellenbosch wine producers,” he warned. At Stark Conde, a winery where the impact of the smaller crop was also felt, winemaker, Rudger van Wyk, revealed that the quality of the grapes harvested will balance the lower quantities. “Grapes hit phenolic ripeness at lower sugar and associated alcohol levels, (and we are) expecting really complex wines,” he predicted.

Links to Stellenbosch Wine Routes Harvest podcasts here:

Beyerskloof – Beyers Truter

Spier - Johan Jordaan

L’Avenir – Leigh Diedricks

Kanonkop – Johann Krige

Stark Conde – Rudger van Wyk

Beyers Truter, Beyerskloof
Beyers Truter, Beyerskloof

Rudger van Wyk, Stark Conde Wines
Rudger van Wyk, Stark Conde Wines

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