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A closer look at the 2012 harvest

14 March 2012 by Cape Legends
With the intense heat spells in the Western Cape during January, the 2012 harvest came earlier in some areas of the Winelands while in others the heat had little if any effect on the ripening of the grapes.
We asked a number of our winemakers from different areas to give us their take on the present harvest. They are Guy Webber of Stellenzicht that lies between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, Kobus Gerber and Wayne Gabb of Lomond near Gansbaai, De Wet Viljoen of Neethlingshof near Stellenbosch and Estelle Lourens of Uitkyk between Stellenbosch and Klapmuts. We also canvassed the views of Hannes van Rensburg who counts Papkuilsfontein among his responsibilities, the farm near Darling from where grapes for Tukulu wines are sourced.

While all agree that the heat spell in January was quite hectic, Wayne Gabb pointed out that due to the farm`s proximity to the fishing village of Gansbaai, the vines were cooled in the afternoon by refreshing breezes coming off the ocean. As a result the grapes ripened slowly and harvesting started several weeks later than in the warmer areas of the Winelands.

De Wet Viljoen of Neethlingshof found himself in a similar situation saying: "Our white cultivars are planted on the higher slopes where they are exposed to the cool south westerly winds off False Bay. These vineyards largely escaped the effects of the heat, and the rich variety of flavours they developed shows in the juice."

According to Hannes van Rensburg the months of November and December were cooler than normal thereby allowing the grapes to ripen slowly. "As a result we started picking some ten days later than usual."

"As there are only dryland vineyards on Papkuilsfontein we manage the canopies very carefully to ensure the grapes develop as far as possible in die shade provided by the leaves. Vines which do not receive supplementary irrigation adapt themselves to extreme conditions. "Smaller canopies also result in less transpiration through the leaves while the cover crops grown between the rows help prevent evaporation of moisture from the soil."

For those farms with irrigated vineyards such as Stellenzicht, Uitkyk, Neethlingshof and Lomond, irrigation has been essential. Guy Webber of Stellenzicht says he did not irrigate because of the heat but mostly because of the very low rainfall during the growing season. This was also the case at Neethlingshof where they had to cope for ten days without water due to a burst pipeline from the Theewaterskloof dam.

De Wet Viljoen found the berries smaller, promising superb colour and concentrated fruit flavours in the wine. "I`m expecting a slightly smaller crop this year. It also seems as if optimal ripeness will be achieved at slightly lower sugar levels which translates into slightly lower alcohol in the wines".

Estelle Lourens said at Uitkyk they also managed their leaf canopies with great care to ensure the grapes did not become sunburnt in the heat. "Thanks to our investment in technology we could accurately determine ground water status and make the best use of the little water we had. The result is an excellent crop of healthy grapes which are turning into beautiful wines in the cellar."