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Harvest report Cape Winelands 2018: local winemakers talk grapes, drought and get real about this year's expectations

'This year may be tough, but the Swartland’s winemakers are tougher.'

16 Apr 2018
South African wine harvest results around the cape

ALSO READ: SA’s best wine labels for 2018 – revealed.

The great news is that South Africa is inundated with talented and experienced winemakers who are able to produce beautiful wines in partnership with the Cape's often unpredictable weather. 

With four categories for winemakers to focus on, including timing, weather, yield and quality, these regions and estates have fared quite differently. It's standard practice for winemakers to work symbiotically with available resources, and while many were affected by the extreme weather conditions of the last year, there's a general consensus of harvest success. 

Most importantly, wine across the entire region can be expected to meet the high standards of South African wine. As for this year's pricing, we'll have to wait and see. 


 Cancel harvest Excelsior Wine Estate Peter de We

Wine Estate: Excelsior 
Winemaker: Peter de Wet

Harvest timing
The harvest started 10 days later due to a very cool spring and early summer. The timing sped up due the hot January and February, so it is now almost normal.

It depends on the farm. Robertson experienced very bad frost damage in October which resulted in over 80% crop loss in certain vineyards. The drought itself has led to about a 155 reduction in yield, but this figure varies from farm to farm.

Grape yield
It should be good. Some varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon like water stress, but some like Sauvignon Blanc do not. Generally, the grapes are very healthy and have concentrated flavours. Fortunately, the grapevine is a desert plant and is very water wise.

Wine quality
The major problem is the drought and frost, but the actual growing conditions this summer have actually been quite good.


harvest Nitida wine estate 2018

Wine Estate: Nitida
Winemaker: Daniel Keulder

Harvest timing
Our harvest started a good 2 weeks later than 2016 and 2017, that said – our harvests in 2015, 16 and 17 were earlier than normal, so 2018 were closer to a normal start date for us.

A couple of things that we have noticed is that the number of bunches were very similar to last year, but that the berries were much bigger than expected from a dry year – this I think made up the difference in the crop. I know other farmers in the area have experienced much smaller berries due to the drought. 

Even with this earlier picking, we have much higher pH’s than normal in the wines that have finished fermenting – again due to higher potassium levels due to the drought.

Grape yield
As mentioned above, our yield is a good 20% up from 2017 and I normally find that with a good crop comes good quality (within reason obviously). 

I am mostly a Sauvignon blanc producer (around 70%) and on average my crop is up by about 20% from last year – compared to most of the other farmers in the area that are down on volume from last year. I will still need to see what will happen on the red grapes side, but I am expecting a very similar crop to previous years.

Wine quality
I am very excited about the quality of the Sauvignon blanc this year. We have a very good concentration of flavours with the right acidities. The high pH’s is a bit worrying and might influence the ageing of some of the wines. 

We will probably have a much better indication in a couple of months when all the wines have finished fermenting.


Harvest Backsberg 2018

Wine Estate: Backsberg
CEO: Simon Backsberg

Harvest timing
While harvest began unusually early the past two years, this year’s vintage is right on schedule. On the 15th of January, our team rose early to gather the first Chardonnay grapes, destined for our Sparkling Brut MCC. Subsequently, we have picked Pinotage for our 2018 Pinotage Rosé (last year was our first vintage for this light, fresh rosé, which has been a runaway success) and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for both Premium and Black Label ranges. The rest of the whites and first of the reds will follow over the coming weeks.

The drought is proving very challenging for farmers in general. The dry conditions were a factor in the blocks where yield was down. Fortunately, Backsberg is in a stable position in that we have our own water reserves to see us through the season.That said, we really need a good winter. 

Grape yield
It was mixed: some vineyard blocks were the same, and some were a bit down from last year. To our pleasant surprise, our Pinotage grapes are coming in at approximately 1,5g per berry. This is a reasonable yield, given the circumstances.

Wine quality
Overall, the quality looks really strong. The wines are really concentrated. Both our Merlot and Shiraz are showing veraison beautifully. “This year has been a pleasure in that not all our grapes have ripened at the same time,” comments winemaker Alicia Rechner, “allowing us more time to pick with discretion. 


Wine Estates: David & Nadia, Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards Swartland
Report Source: Swartland Wine and Olive Route

Harvest timing
According to David Sadie, owner and winemaker of David & Nadia, a member of the Swartland Independent Producers in the Paardeberg-area 'We started the harvest two weeks ago and already took in all our Pinotage. The harvest is approximately a week later than the norm.' 

The region’s foremost producers are cautiously optimistic about the grapes they’ve taken in so far and the effects of the drought, although substantial, has not curtailed the area’s yield completely.  Slower ripening process can be explained at the hand of less dense foliage and fewer leaves as a result of the drought. 

Grape yield
According to production manager Alecia Boshoff, the season is running later than last year but is actually on par when compared to a 10-year average. 'We're expecting a lighter harvest as a result of the drought. Although most of the vineyards still look good, sunburn and other stress symptoms are becoming apparent. In December, we were still very optimistic, but the vineyards really need some rain at the moment.'

Although they only took their first grapes two weeks ago, he already suspects that the overall harvest will be between 20-30% smaller in comparison with last year.

Wine quality
We are satisfied with what we get and believe that quantity and quality will balance out in the end. It's only the start of the harvest, and total outcomes are yet to be determined, but it helps to have producers with a positive outlook at the helm. This year may be tough, but the Swartland’s winemakers are tougher.


Nederburg South African wine harvest results 2018

Wine Estate: Nederberg
Cellar-Master: Andrea Freeborough
Viticulturist: Bennie Liebenberg 

Harvest timing
The 2018 wine grape harvest commenced around two weeks later than in 2017. We have seen slower ripening of the grapes than usual due to smaller canopies, limited water in the soils and that which is available for irrigation.

The ongoing drought has certainly had an impact on this year’s harvest, with some vineyards being water-stressed, but frost, hail and sunburn were also contributing factors in certain areas. Despite a dry winter in 2017, early summer growing conditions were good with cool weather and some rain in October and November. The prevalence of wind during October and November adversely affected flowering. The windy and cool conditions also resulted in a poor set and therefore a smaller crop. Frost damage at the end of October had a negative impact in certain areas.  High temperatures exceeding 35°C in December and January, very little rain during this period, and the preceding growing season, as well as the limited availability of water for irrigation, are all factors that negatively affected the 2018 harvest.

Grape yield
We’re still busy harvesting, but it’s evident that this year’s harvest will yield a significantly lower crop of wine grapes than in recent years, even as much as 40% compared to the 2017 wine grape harvest that delivered an estimated 1.4 million tons, according to the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS). At Nederburg, we source grapes from across the Western Cape, so we are fortunate to have secured the required volume to reach our targets. In other words, there won’t be a shortage of any Nederburg wines from the 2018 vintage.

Wine Quality
It’s still a bit early to say, but we’re cautiously optimistic about the quality of the eventual wines, expecting these to have very concentrated flavours. Uneven ripening of grapes was noticed in some vineyards, especially when it comes to the reds. We’re harvesting at slightly lower sugar levels on some of our blocks, predominantly on some of the aromatic whites such as Sauvignon blanc, in order to preserve aromas and flavours.  Some dryland vineyards were also harvested slightly earlier to prevent further vineyard stress and the resulting higher pH values in the grapes. 

Nederburg’s viticulturist, Bennie Liebenberg, says: 'Climate change poses a huge challenge for the South African winemaking industry. By introducing new and unusual varieties, we are essentially experimenting and planning for the future, creating additional building blocks for innovation. Given Nederburg’s heritage that spans 225 years, it is our responsibility to ensure the future or our winery.'


Wine Estate: Simonsig 
Source: Simonsig Harvest report

Harvest timing
The Darling fruit was picked much earlier than previous years in order to get more green herbaceous flavours of figs and gooseberries. These characters, called pyrazines, are heat sensitive and will disappear quickly in a warm vintage like 2018. The coolest site for Sauvignon Blanc in the country is Elim, which will be the last area to be harvested at the end of February.

Due to the exceptionally dry conditions, our aim was to harvest more Chenin at lower levels of ripeness when there is more acidity and freshness. We are pleased to confirm that the Chenins harvested earlier have shown great fruit, which bodes well for the grapes still on the vines. The Simonsig Chenin style is based on full ripeness when the berries start to turn into a russety, tan colour with some raisined berries developing due to transpiration.

Grape yield
The best Chardonnay blocks were also harvested during week 5 and displayed healthy fruit with intense ripe flavours. Chardonnay, unlike Sauvignon Blanc, can thrive in warmer conditions and make beautiful, luscious wines. The yield for Chardonnay was similar to last year for most vineyards, while a few were down by as much as 22%.

Wine quality
This results in the ripe, dried fruit and honey flavours that adds fatness and viscosity to the mouthfeel. In a dry vintage like 2018 more Chenin was harvested at just over 20° Balling for higher acidity and more freshness, as well as lower resultant alcohol.

Pinotage kept the team busy during the past fortnight with manual punch downs and pump overs to extract colour, fruit and tannins. One of the new techniques introduced over the past few years has been adding up to 20% of whole bunches to the fermentation stage, that has added a lot of dimension to the Pinotage’s depth and complexity. 

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