Stellenbosch wine farmers expect large, good quality crop

Tuesday, 13 January, 2004
Emile Joubert
Total wine crop is expected to exceed 2003’s
Wine farmers and wine lovers can look forward to an above average 2004 vintage if weather conditions in the Western Cape continue to play along during December and January. Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes’ chief executive, Nicolette de Kock, says the total wine crop is expected to exceed this year’s one by 5 percent to 10 percent.

Further good news is that vineyard conditions are ideal, especially after good rains in the region. ‘These not only mean more grapes, but also more grapes of good quality. That is the determining factor for our reputation as the country’s foremost wine region,’ she said.

The average annual wine crop for the Stellenbosch region is 98 000 tons. Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes was founded last year to represent the entire Stellenbosch Wine-of-Origin region and its more than 300 cellars and growers.

‘Although the cold spells during early winter were not ideal, the critical flowering and berry set stages went off beautifully owing to good rains in late winter and early spring, ‘ said de Kock. ‘Steady temperatures that caused good berry development accompanied these and some cultivars - like Chardonnay – are already pea size.

‘I have just returned from a visit to all five our sub-regions and have never before seen the vineyards in such a beautiful and healthy state. If the present pattern lasts until the end of January, when our harvesting season starts, 2004 will be a big year for Stellenbosch.’

According to Johann Krige, chairman of the Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes and co-owner of the well-known Kanonkop Wine Estate in the Simonsberg sub-region, the crop is not only expected to be ample and of good quality, ‘but also of a less costly nature’.

‘Until now the season has been exceptionally disease free, owing to constant spring temperatures. There has also been just enough wind to keep the vineyards healthy and fungus-free, but not enough to cause damage to vineyards. The fact that many of our farmers will be saving on fungicides, is good news – especially since the strong rand knocked export earnings for a six!’ Krige said all indicators for a large vintage of good quality were in place. ‘The rain over the weekend came as if it was ordered. All that we in the Simonsberg region still need, is another good soaking in January. That will cool the vineyards down, and then the southeaster will blow then dry again. That way we’ll be able to start the harvest with a spring in our step.’

PG Slabbert, winemaker/manager of Stellenbosch Hills in Stellenbosch’s West region, says the warm and dry conditions during autumn and early spring initially caused concern. ‘But the late rains during August and September quickly sorted things out and resulted in our growers experiencing a very even flowering and berry-set period. The harvest may be a week or two late, but the quality of especially merlot, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc seems excellent. If only the weather will allow ripening to proceed evenly, we will be looking at the most promising season in a long time.’

To Ken Forrester, owner of Forrester Wines in Stellenbosch’s Helderberg region, the vineyards looked like a postcard. ‘And if you move amongst them, the leaves, bunches and vines are in such good condition they seem positively luxuriant, ‘ said Forrester. ‘There seems to be no stress and until now, temperatures have been even. We hope to harvest our chenin blanc at the end of January. But the next two months are critical. A good farmer never tries to be his own weather forecaster, but we are hoping for constant temperatures that won’t go off on a gallop just before the harvest.’

Louis Roos, winemaker and co-owner of Mooiplaas in Stellenbosch’s Bottelary region, also talks of a ‘potentially’ good year. ‘It has largely to do with the sound health of the vineyards. They are of vigorous and robust health and we’ve had no fungi, owing to the dry, cool conditions in our region. Everything is on schedule.’

According to VinPro consultant, Johan Pienaar, the harvest in the Stellenbosch region could be 5 percent to 10 percent up on this year’s one because of disease free conditions and even temperatures.

‘The vineyards are bearing exceptionally well and farmers may soon begin crop control by thinning out some of the bunches to ensure that quality meets the high expectations. Dryland farmers will however still hope for a few more showers, as the soil is drying out fast and lack of moisture may lead to stress amongst quite a few cultivars. Then we hope that the southeaster will save its whip and that the mercury won’t shoot to high levels in January and February. If everything falls into place, the region may expect a good vintage.

‘However, with our climate one can never tell,’ he adds cautiously. ‘Until now everything has been fine and if good conditions prevail, we’ll be able to record 2004 as a very good year.’

Issued by: Mediavision on behalf of Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes
Contact: Nicolette De Kock
Tel: +27 (0) 21 886-8275

Contact: Emile Joubert