Stellenbosch Temperatures Soar

Tuesday, 30 January, 2007
Kim Maxwell
Soaring temperatures during the week of January 22nd brought early harvest activity in the Stellenbosch area, although other regions are mostly sitting tight for still wines. Then temperatures cooled dramatically on Monday January 29th, with a light drizzle or grey clouds draping much of the Boland. This week’s outlook suggests temperatures should rise into the mid-thirties, reports Kim Maxwell.
When Jan Boland Coetzee of Vriesenhof in Stellenbosch’s Paradyskloof, is asked about the 2007 harvest being a little early, he scoffs. ‘A little early? It’s the earliest harvest since '67, for me personally. It seems to be between 10 and 14 days earlier. The main cause is the heat. We had an inch of rain on New Years Eve, and nothing since. We call that the vetmaakreëntjie. It’s the combination of no rain, and the sudden heat we had last week. We were getting up to 37 degrees for two days.’

Vriesenhof started harvesting on January 23rd, and the cellar activity hasn’t stopped. ‘We’ve finished with Chardonnay and Sauvignon. The Sauvignon was in first, which is unusual for us, and then the Pinot Noir. So now we’re starting with Pinotage, and some Merlot is also ready,’ Coetzee reports. Are there sunburnt grapes? ‘No. Luckily not. The analysis at the moment is still unbelievable,’ he says. ‘pHs are fairly low, which is kinda nice. It’s a lot cooler,’ he said of the weather on January 29th. ‘We’ve been starting at 4am, because of the heat. We were harvesting right over the weekend.’

At Hartenberg Estate’s 110ha in Bottelary, Jaco van der Merwe says their first Sauvignon grapes came in two weeks early, on Monday January 22nd. ‘We’ve already brought in Pinotage, and a small portion of Merlot. Van der Merwe says the heat has pushed sugars up. ‘Water management now is critical to avoid high alcohols. Our Sauvignon and Pinotage are both looking good, except for 25 balling on one Pinotage block. I’ve heard people in Robertson haven’t even picked Sauvignon yet. And in Constantia, they haven’t even started sampling their grapes.’

Vilafonté will use their new state-of-the-art winery to make their fifth wine vintage. Their vines are situated on the Paarl side of the Simonsberg, but the winery is situated at the new Bosman’s Crossing development in Stellenbosch.

Winemaker Zelma Long thought she’d be picking Merlot and Malbec on January 29th, after the hot spell. ‘Now we’re waiting until Wednesday January 31st,’ she says. ‘We would normally pick during the 1st of February, so it will be pretty much on time. The cooler cycle that started over the weekend was a blessing in terms of flavour development. The weather seemed to progressively cool during the evenings towards the end of last week, and humidity went up to more normal levels.’

The Vilafonté team is collaborating with the Dalla Cia family to open a restaurant/deli/tasting area alongside their wineries in March 2007. The Dalla Cias grappa distillery will also make a Vilafonté brandy.

Bruwer Raats has never harvested Chenin Blanc for Raats Family Wines during the month of January. ‘Last year we started harvesting on February 7th, so it’s almost a week and a half early,’ he said of unirrigated, trellised Chenin picked on Friday January 26th, from Bottelary. Irrigated Sauvignon grapes were also brought in on January 29th, at Lushof in the Helderberg, where he consults. Raats will assist Samantha Bürgin in harvesting Mont Destin reds in two weeks' time, at the Klapmuts end of Stellenbosch. ‘Obviously that heat spell last week sped things up a bit, but we’ve still had good pHs and acids. The guys with young vineyards will struggle this year, especially without irrigation. And there’s a lot of young vineyard around,’ Raats comments.
On a larger scale, Distell viticulturist Dirk Bosman says the grapes are coming in fast. Their Bergkelder cellar has already harvested over 4,000 tons, of a projected 20,000 tons. ‘It’s definitely one to two weeks earlier, after those heat waves. The sugars climbed dramatically. Within a week, there was an increase in some varieties of 4 – 5 balling within four or five days. Acids are still high and pHs are low. So guys have to be careful with attaining physiological ripeness,’ he says.

With increased pressure on cellars, vineyard conditions are cause for concern. ‘The main reason is that water transpiration through the skin of the berries, is concentrating the sugars,’ says Bosman. ‘What’s also a problem is that water uptake via the roots is less than the transpiration via the leaves in some cases. We are a bit concerned about the water moisture in the soils too. A lot of vineyards are dryland, or with minimal irrigation. In top quality Stellenbosch areas, two weeks back the vineyards were looking better than during the previous two years. But I was in the vineyards after the heatwave last week, and surprisingly, our top quality Sauvignons still have good flavours. If we get 35 degree days now it isn’t a problem, but those 40 to 41 degree temperatures we had for two to three days... that was heatwave stuff.’

See the WINE.CO.ZA Harvest Page for more...