Winemaker's Journal

Wednesday, 21 April, 2004
Bruce Jack
When the grapes are calling, you have to follow ...

We are 60% of the way through harvest. Next week we expect Pinotage from the Swartberg Mountains (could this be the latest ripening Pinotage in the country?) and Cabernet Franc from the foothills behind Ashton in Robertson. Then there will be a few quiet weeks before the Cabernet comes in from Elim and Constantia.

Finally, the Shiraz will ripen in the Swartberg Mountains and we can start winding down the 2004 crush. Our cellar has been running for 24 hours a day, seven days a week since the last week of January. We have at least another 40 days and 40 nights to go. This sort of pace and commitment is only possible if you have the ability and opportunity to elevate your work onto a different philosophical plane.

It is probably easier for winemakers to do this year in and year out, because it is essentially a natural, creative process. It has built-in rewards that defy capitalist standards of business and our modern societal value systems.

There is a sort of internal furnace of self-motivation in most good winery teams that burns bright – like a young advertising company on-fire with creativity or a human rights movement ablaze with self belief. In some wineries you can sense the confluence of nature and people. Not one swamping the other, but that rare synergy of the two. Wineries that work combine improbable forces; they are happy factories.

Four or five times a summer the frost alarm rings (usually at 3am) and fires are lit in the vineyards to counteract the horrendous damage possible. Farmer, Guillaume Swiegers, also breeds and raises ostriches, but has to sell them before they are 6 months old because they get stunted by the cold nights and don't grow taller than a metre. It is a good 11 hour round trip by car to get there and back, so I sometimes fly up to the vineyards during crush.

The problem with this rather romantic image is George Airport, which doesn't have the sophisticated radar systems needed for landing in heavy fog - the same omnipresent coastal fog that claims aeroplanes all the time. The last high profile crash killed our favourite cricket scoundrel, Hansie 'the devil made me do it' Cronje.

On more than one occasion this year we had to circle for an hour above George until the ground temperature warmed to over 18 degrees C and the fog lifted enough for the pilot to fly into the white frothy soup and attempt to spot the runway before hitting it.

This is not only a labour of love, but a nifty way to conquer any fear of flying. Hey, when the grapes are calling, you have to follow...

The Jack & Knox Winecraft label is a joint venture between Flagstone and Graham Knox – winewriter, wine marketer and extreme vineyard trophy hunter.

Issued by: Bruce Jack, Flagstone Winery