A good oak and an Indian summer

Wednesday, 12 May, 2004
Wynand Hamman
News from Lanzerac
Last week we pressed our final batch of Shiraz, signifying the end of the 2004 harvest.

I thought we’d have everything wrapped up by Easter but picking continued right up to the end of April. The quality of fruit has been excellent. Another important feature of this vintage is that alcohol levels are lower than in recent years. For the most part, the reds are under 14% alcohol by volume because phenological ripening occurred slower and at cooler temperatures with lower sugars. As I write, all but the Merlot are still undergoing malolactic fermentation.

The Merlot (both for the varietal wine and the Classic blend) is now in wood. For the first time I am experimenting with a combination of Austrian, German and Slovenian wood, produced by some Austrian coopers, who go by the name of Stockinger. What prompted me to give these barriques a try was my experience of the wood last year in Austria.

It was when I was visiting with my friend and fellow winemaker Thomas Teibert, whom I first met when he did a harvest with us here in 1999. He consults to a variety of wineries in Europe and was keen to keep up with new cooperage developments, as was I. Even though the rand is currently stronger than in the recent past, French wood is enormously costly, owing to its international popularity. Nevertheless, there is a small but steady interest in oaks from other parts of Europe.

The first thing I noticed in the wines aged in these barriques was the gentle, floral sweetness of the flavour it imparts, which is in stark contrast to the caramelized sweetness of American oak, for example.

Its impact is very mild and instead of overpowering the inherent fruit character of the wine, it elevates it. I like that quality very much. So the long and the short of it is I’m trying it out on limited quantities of all our reds, as well as the Chardonnay. And who knows, it could become a growing part of our vinification at Lanzerac.

Indian summer
We’ve had a recent fairly hot spell. Every year that happens, people comment on how unseasonal it is, but we have our local version of an Indian summer virtually every April or May. I’m not unduly concerned at this stage. We had a good rainfall over Easter, amounting to about 30 mm and enough to moisten the soils. As I look out my window, many of the vines are still bearing leaves, indicating that they remain active, thus drawing up nutrients from the soil to tide them over the winter hibernation period. And this leads me to feel very optimistic about the 2005 vintage.

Cheers, Wynand Hamman : Winemaker, Lanzerac