Harvest time has arrived in the Cape Winelands and despite the Covid-induced fight for survival, the industry is excited about the promise and blessing of a new vintage.
"The freshness of an early-morning walk through the vineyards, the activity on the farm and in the cellar as well as the energy and excitement of harvest-time lift my spirits and I believe, also those of local wine-making communities. Of course, it doesn’t help to make more wine when you can’t sell it, but for those who work in the vineyards and cellars, there is a joy to the harvest that, for a moment, transcends the marketing and sales dilemma”, says La Motte CEO, Hein Koegelenberg.
According to La Motte Cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche, "The overall quality of the 2021 wine grape harvest is expected to be exceptional after a very good growing season with a cold and wet winter and relatively cool growing conditions." The season is about two weeks late and he only expects the first grapes in the estate's pressing cellar in February.
Volumes seem to be slightly lower – which is not a bad thing in a year where cellar capacity is an issue. The value of stock surplus due to the alcohol ban is estimated at R1,5 billion of unsold wine still in cellars. "Most wineries have excess wines in the cellar and some either dropped bunches in the vineyards or will leave bunches hanging to manage the size of the crop. At La Motte, crop management is a very important part of the harvest and cooperation between vineyard and cellar teams will be of the essence", says Terblanche.
Despite instances of both powdery and downy mildew, the lower yields and cooler conditions will probably result in favourable analyses.
While the La Motte harvest will be predominantly from Franschhoek, the Cape South Coast and Stellenbosch, delayed readiness and lower yields are also expected in other areas such as Durbanville and even up north in the Cederberg ward.
Charles Hopkins at De Grendel agrees that volumes might be 7 to 10% lower and he also believes that the harvest brings some optimism: “While there is much to worry about – if we factor in load shedding and an increase in fuel prices in addition to the uncertainty about wine sales and the cellar capacity challenges – at least, we should be positive when it comes to the quality promise of the 2021 vintage.”
David Nieuwoudt of Cederberg Private Cellars feels that the wine industry shouldn't get caught up in the short-term challenges. He says that not being able to host social events, dinners and wine tastings, gave winemakers the time to get into the vineyards more often and if the good weather conditions continue, he is excited about the health and quality of the 2021 vintage. With some wind during flowering, the harvest in this region is also expected to be smaller.
It is impossible to ignore the challenging circumstances. The ban on wine sales lead to over-supply in wine stocks and serious cash flow problems. Wine tourism suffered greatly at the hand of Covid and continued uncertainty makes it difficult to plan and be positive. Despite all of this, there is an infectious energy to Harvest Time and it is almost tangible in the small communities of the Winelands. To have a harvest, remains a blessing.
As soon as the ban on alcohol is lifted, La Motte will introduce its annual Harvest Experience with vineyard and cellar tours, wine tastings and a harvest-inspired lunch. Follow La Motte Wine on social media for updates.