Speculation is rife about the timing, quality and especially volume of South Africa's 2018 wine grapes harvest - all because of the exceptional drought conditions in the Cape Winelands. At the annual Vinpro wine industry information day, viticulture specialist Francois Viljoen said that SA wine is in unchartered waters when it comes to the challenges of this season.
La Motte Cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche shares his thoughts on the 2018 harvest and what is expected for La Motte.
The harvest seems to be at least two weeks later than last year and it is a case of stop and go. Determining ripeness is a challenge with uneven berry samples and I think uneven ripening will be one of the challenges of the season.
While the South African harvest is expected to be the smallest in a decade, it is not only the result of the drought. Frost, hail and sunburn as well as the fact that vineyards are increasingly uprooted and not replaced, have a significant impact on volumes. The sharp rise in temperatures late December, the strong South-Easterly winds and a lack of irrigation water also left affected vineyards dry and stressed.
Harvest volumes really depends on where you are situated. While the Vredendal farmers have serious volume concerns, we are fortunate not to be in the same position. The La Motte harvest estimate is similar to 2017 - which was slightly lower than usual.
Grapes for the La Motte Cellar are mainly from three areas - Franschhoek, Bot River and Elim where the impact of the drought is limited as all the farms have water. Elim, especially, has not been challenged by dry conditions, but volumes were affected by hail in November causing serious damage to vineyards and resulting some to be down in volume by 50%.
Wind restricted volumes in the Bot River area where its continuous presence halted growth and resulted in small berries. Volumes might therefore be lower than initial estimations. The first vineyards to be harvested confirmed this, being 30% lower than last year and 50% lower than the harvest estimate.
Vineyards on La Motte are in a beautiful condition and the first vineyard block harvested has delivered 15% more than 2017 and is in line with the estimate. We have a lot to be thankful for.
Despite a dryish winter, early summer growing conditions were good with cool weather in October, November and the beginning of December as well as some rain in Spring. Well-managed vineyards with enough canopy and access to water can expect good quality and concentrated flavours. It is therefore not doom and gloom for everyone.
It is early to make a call on the quality. Initial analyses show higher pH values and we will be harvesting at lower sugars to ensure balanced sugars and acidity. Our grapes and vineyards are very healthy because of the dry conditions, but we - and I expect most producers - would not hesitate to rather opt for some rain, if it was a choice!