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Earliest harvest in decades for South Africa

The 2015 harvest has caught many South African winemakers off guard – and on the beach – with the grapes ripening around two weeks earlier than usual. While the harvest is only just over halfway, the quality seems promising all around – with some even dubbing this a “perfect year”.

Francois Viljoen, manager of VinPro’s Viticultural Consultation Services, explains that it is the earliest harvest in decades. “This is partially due to a warmer than usual August, followed by a hot, dry and very windy summer, which required additional irrigation,” he says. “However, ideal, dry conditions during harvest time ensured healthy grapes, with minimal occurrence of disease or rot. 2015 is a particularly good year.”

Following 2014’s record harvest, a lighter load is expected and according to Francois, viticulturists are positive about exceptional colour and flavour in both white and red wines. “All cultivars harvested so far show great promise – especially Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage.”

For South African viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, the quality from all of the regions that she buys from – including Elgin, Swartland, Robertson, Darling and Stellenbosch – is among the best that she has ever seen. “We are getting great acidity at good ripeness levels, with mostly lower pHs,” she says. “The fruit is fresh and crisp at full ripeness, with not too high sugar levels (degrees Balling).”

Click through for a journey through selected South African wine regions…


Situated in the Aprilskloof Valley of the Paardeberg, Lammershoek comprises 70 ha of vineyards farmed organically and mostly dry-land. Newly appointed winemaker, Schalk Opperman, explains that 2015 is turning out to be a very good year. “Although the harvest started about two weeks earlier than normal, ripening has slowed down during these last two weeks of February,” he says.

“We now need to remain patient and not be over-eager to get the grapes off. This is especially important with the later Shiraz blocks, as well as our Carignan and Grenache.”

“Along with the good quality, we are also experiencing good yields. While it is still too early to really tell, I am especially excited about the Shiraz, Chenin Blanc and Carignan,” he says.


Photo: Julie Breuzon and William Perkins pressing Pinot Noir, destined for Graham Beck’s Méthode Cap Classique.


Pieter Ferreira, cellar master of Graham Beck Wines Robertson and all-round bubbly master, explains that the earlier harvest – they started on 8 January already – was due to the most beautiful weather conditions through flowering and the ripening period. “While it’s still early days, I believe that this is going to be one of the best in the 25 years of Graham Beck’s existence. We are super-excited!” he says.

“We have just over 70 different components of base wine that will be considered for our portfolio of Méthode Cap Classiques. The fruit is exceptional and healthy, and the analysis is text-book. It will be a year with tremendous longevity and we should bottle more in magnums, as this will be a vintage to remember.”


Whole-bunch Viognier from Paarl at Fairview.


Paarl winery, Fairview, receive grapes from all over the Western Cape and winemaker Stephanie Wiid explains that this year’s white grapes from Darling are concentrated and rich, with generally good sugar loading. “Paarl is also looking great and benefitted from being harvested earlier, avoiding some of the hot February days,” she says. “So far, the Darling Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, as well as Paarl Chenin Blanc and Viognier are really impressive.”

KWV, famed for their The Mentors range, also receive grapes from various sites and for winemaker Izele van Blerk, the overall quality across all of the regions is exceptional this year. “The grapes are healthy and especially the Sauvignon Blancs are looking good,” she says.


Sorting of Malbec grapes at La Motte.


Edmund Terblanche, La Motte cellar master, is satisfied with the overall health and quality of this year’s grapes. “We are very pleased with the aromas and analysis, and are especially happy about getting the Sauvignon Blanc in the cellar before any of the notorious heat waves,” he says.

“With the harvest so much earlier, however, some suppliers were caught off guard with early season orders of barrels and chemicals being slightly late. We also had a breakdown of equipment that required urgent attention, only to find out that the particular technician was still on holiday.”


Hand harvested grapes on its way to Jordan Wine Estate’ cellar.


On the outskirts of Stellenbosch, with breath-taking views of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, lies Jordan Wine Estate. Owner, Gary Jordan, explains that while they started harvesting about two weeks later than most of Stellenbosch, as per usual, the vintage is at least two weeks earlier than they have ever experienced.

“The cold, wet winter of 2014 lead to perfect conditions during flowering in Stellenbosch. We saw very even ripening, with véraison two weeks earlier than usual. Berries are much smaller than last year, but the concentration more than compensates for this,” he says.

Neil Ellis Wines receives grapes from Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch, Elgin, Groenekloof (near Darling on the West Coast) and Piekenierskloof (near Citrusdal). Owner and winemaker, Neil Ellis, explains that visually and analytically, the fruit is in pristine condition, with good flavours. “The Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc came in very healthy, with excellent analysis and the ferment is showing great promise. However, it is still far too early to seriously assess the vintage or to compare it with previous years.”

Walker Bay

Hamilton Russell’s new winemaker, Emul Ross, during the 2015 harvest.


Heading along the coast to Hermanus is the cool and pristine Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Anthony Hamilton Russell, proprietor of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, explains that not only is this their earliest harvest to date, it is also a shorter harvest, with grapes ripening at a much faster rate.

“We are really excited about the quality of our grapes. All in all, it looks as if 2015 will be a great Pinot Noir year, with dark, complex fruit and a deep structure, while the Chardonnays are full, with intense flavours,” he says.

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