Louis Strydom/Leander Koekemoer vintage report

Ernie Els vintage report 2024

With colder weather upon us, the Ernie Els Cellar has officially closed its doors on the 2024 Harvest Season, and what an interesting season it was!

It’s been a tough year, with the Western Cape battling extreme weather conditions during the growing season. Right after bud burst, we experienced an unusual hailstorm, a rare occurrence in Stellenbosch. While this momentarily cooled down the soils, the vineyards quickly bounced back. Our high-potential soils are best suited for growing red cultivars, which tend to bud late, so at the time of the storm, the leaves were small and sustained minimal damage.

Heavy rainfall during winter last year left our soil water levels near capacity, and the vines responded well to the drier days that followed. Unfortunately, we faced further setbacks during flowering due to strong winds which compromised the main shoots, resulting in a lower fruit set.

Despite these challenges, the remainder of the season was dry, leading up to a harvest in which the vines thrived. Although overall production was the lowest it has been in the last 15 years, the reduced quantity means that we can expect exceptional quality from the 2024 season.


Ernie Els assistant winemaker Shannon Burger
Ernie Els assistant winemaker Shannon Burger

2024 marked Assistant Winemaker, Shannon Burger’s first harvest on the Helderberg at Ernie Els Wines.

“It’s a privilege to work with such exceptional terroir. This was a challenging year for the vineyards, but it gave me the opportunity to see first-hand how crucial soil quality is in nurturing our vines to produce excellent fruit. Despite tough conditions, the quality is outstanding, and we’ve taken great care to ensure that the 2024 vintage quintessentially reflects the Helderberg terroir.”


Glenelly logo featured image 1200 x 800

Harvest report 2024 at Glenelly

Cellar Master Dirk van Zyl reports “ with all the grapes in the cellar and the last few tanks to be pressed, it’s a good time to reflect on this special vintage”.

After rain arrived in late February 2023, it continued unabated into winter,
leading to an early winter that was both very wet and cold. Slightly less rain in
July and August, a few warmer days in August, and the good cold unit build-up
in the preceding months led to bud-break occurring around 10-14 days
earlier than normal. Just as the vines were growing nicely, September delivered
227mm of rain! This caused some flooding on the farm, but we were lucky not
to have had any significant damage. In the vineyards, the full surface ground
cover of cover crops and weeds also prevented any significant erosion and
ensured we captured as much water as possible.

As September ended, we also saw the end of any significant rainfall for the
year, with virtually no rain from October to December. However, 2023 still
ended as one of the wettest (if not the wettest) on record, with a total rainfall
of 980mm. We thus started the season with great soil moisture, which we soon
found out was very needed, as the months leading up to harvest saw far more
wind than normal. The wind, coupled with dry and warm weather, quickly
dried out soils and moderated growth significantly. This effect was especially
true on our higher-lying vineyards, on steeper slopes.

The season stayed early, with flowering and veraison also occurring between
10-14 days early in most blocks. The cold and wet early spring (September)
negatively affected the set and flowering of especially the earlier cultivars,
resulting in a significant drop in yield.

Hot weather at the end of December and January meant there was no
slowing down the season, and so harvest started on the 16th of January, a full
2 weeks earlier than the preceding 2 years. The next 2 weeks saw us bringing
in all our Chardonnay, with the last Estate Chardonnay picked on the 31st of
January, one day earlier than the start of the 2023 harvest. While it was the
smallest Chardonnay crop to date on Glenelly, the quality was very exciting.
We decided early on not to focus too much on sugar content but rather to
pick based on flavour and fruit ripeness. With the warm weather, we saw a
sharp decline in acid, but by not waiting for an “ideal” sugar level, we were
able to bring in all the grapes with healthy acidities. Overall, in the wines, we
have quite low alcohols and beautifully linear acidities that are well balanced
by great fruit and mouthfeel.

We had a small break as we waited for the first reds and on the 5th of February,
we brought in the first Merlot, followed shortly by Cabernet Franc on the 8th.
The Merlot blocks were all a little down on yield compared to last year, but the
Cabernet Franc was down massively (40%), showing just how sensitive those
steep slopes are to a dry and windy season. Fortunately, the quality of the
grapes was incredible and made up for the loss in yield. I cannot recall seeing
Merlot and Cabernet Franc juice colour so intensely after only a couple of days
on the skins. As ferment got underway, Léhandri and I soon realized that with
the small berries and thus higher skin-to-juice ratio, we’ll have to be extremely
careful with extraction. We kept to 2 pump-overs per day, but the time of the
pump-overs was generally 50% less than in previous seasons. This, coupled with
a low fermentation temperature of around 22°C for most of the ferment, has
ensured we have very fine and densely packed tannins, but with no harsh or
coarse tannins. After ferment, we also removed the juice from the skins far
quicker than normal, as once again, the evolution of tannins was faster than
normal and any longer could lead to an over-extraction of seed tannin.
We did two picks of Syrah for our Rosé – the first on the 5th of February from
block 26 and the second on the 12th of February from block 24. The quality of
the grapes was outstanding, but real care had to be taken during pressing, as
the colour extracted very quickly.

The first Syrah for red was picked on the 15th of February, and the rest followed
within a week. We saw loads of ripeness at very low sugar levels this year, with
some blocks showing the typical Syrah shrivelling at 23°B already. As with the
rest of the crop, we decided not to aim for any sugar levels, but pick based on
taste, phenolic ripeness, and “gut feel”, and so our Syrah’s all came in at quite
low sugar levels. As usual, we played around with some whole bunch,
submerged cap, and destemmed components and after not being overly
excited by them during ferment, they are all shaping up nicely now!
The day after the Syrah finished, we started picking Cabernet Sauvignon, with
blocks 4 and 7 coming in first. These two blocks always form the heart of Lady
May, and so we were very happy to get almost 4 tons more from them this year
compared to 2023. It was a bit of stop-start harvesting on the Cabernet
Sauvignon’s as the nights started to cool down significantly and we had two
little spells of rain (not enough to cause any damage, just enough to pause
ripening). By this stage, we had completely stopped grape sampling and relied
exclusively on taste and observations in the vineyard. The Petit Verdot followed
in between the Cabernet Sauvignon. All the Cabs and Petits continued the
trend of tiny berries, and so equal care had to be taken with their extraction,
but I believe the quality we have in the cellar is truly exhilarating. The tannins
are generally dense but very finely packed. We have great acidities, and the
wines are on average much lower in alcohol, with the majority sitting in the
range of mid- to high 13’s to low 14’s.

We also did a few experiments this year. The first being a Chardonnay
fermented in Flexcube, with the idea being that the shape and breathability
of the vessel will bring texture and mouthfeel, while the lack of oak will preserve
fruit and freshness. A little like a “poor man’s” amphora or concrete egg! We
picked the bottom of block 30 for this, normally the least inspiring Chardonnay
from the Estate, and I’m happy to report that it worked far better than we
could have imagined! I can see this adding to both Estate Reserve and Glass
Collection and so, next year expect to see a few more fermenting Flexcubes!
We also trialled a whole berry Merlot ferment in upright 500L barrels. Here we
used Merlot from the uppermost rows of block 16, situated at around 280m
elevation on a very steep South-East slope. The bunches and berries were
minute. It’s incredible to see how differently the tannins are showing on this
batch, and it will be very interesting to see how this wine develops over the
next 12 months.

Our final experiment is a continuation of something we experimented with last
year – co-fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. This really
was the biggest revelation to come out of the 2023 harvest, and it has
continued to work incredibly well for us. The Petit Verdot adding so much
character and texture to what would normally be pretty standard Cabernet
Sauvignon, elevating it to strong Lady May contenders! We find that by doing
the co-ferment, we are able to utilise far more Petit Verdot than we could in
the past, so this really is a big win for us! So, to conclude, a vintage that started
off extremely wet, dried off (and then some) by mid-season, was small and
early, but above all – exciting! What a privilege to work with fruit from this
incredible site, and hopefully, we were able to capture the essence of the
vintage and the site in the wines. Only time will tell! Thank you for the incredible
effort from Heinrich and his team in the vineyards and all the hard and
meticulous work from everyone in the cellar!

Cheers to 2024!

Reflections from Paul Clüver Family Wines’ Bountiful Season

With the 2024 grape harvest having finished on Paul Clüver Family Wines in the middle of March, the vineyards are bare of fruit, their leaves now slowly taking on their golden-brown autumnal hues before they will drop-off in winter. Post-Easter rain has replenished the soils, and soon the planting of cover-crops will commence as another cycle begins in the Year of the Vine.

With all the grapes harvested and the juice fermented into young wines, the cellar has returned to its monastic silence as winemakers and staff talk in revered tones about the status of the various varieties in their respective maturation vessels, comment on particular traits emanating from vintage 2024 and predict how these wines will further age before bottling. You don’t work in wine, you live with it.

Harvesting commenced on Paul Clüver in the second week of February this year with the younger Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, the harvest pushed forward by dry conditions over the Cape during December and January. These earlier picked grapes were an indication of things to come, showing that the drier conditions, which had resulted in sparser grape yields, had triggered tremendous fruit-concentration in the berries, which were smaller than usual. Less grape, but more fruit was the word.

And as the more mature blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were ripe for picking towards end February, particularly for the Paul Clüver Estate and Seven Flags ranges, a truer impression of this year’s crop could be reached.

Denser skins on the Pinot Noir for silky tannins and deeper colour. Gorgeous fruit profiles on the Chardonnay with just the correct degree of perky acidity. And, the result of Paul Clüver’s diligent vineyard management programme during the growing season, grapes were of optimal health.

While most of Cape’s other regions continued to bask in a hot summer, Elgin’s reputation as a cool climate area stayed true. Daytime temperatures during harvest were in the mid 20°C, while by the end of February night’s were cooling down into the teens. This evening-cool is vital during harvest as it freshens up the grapes and the chemical balance ahead of the next morning’s pick.

The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay undergo wild, spontaneous fermentations which can be for as long a period as 10 weeks. The aroma of just-fermented wine is still hanging in the cellar, while the youthful offerings of vintage 2024 are being scrutinised by Andries Burger and his team, with all round impressions of a distinctive wine year of exceptional quality.

Vintage Report from Paul Cluver Wines

2023 Vintage report from Paul Cluver Wines, Elgin, South Africa

“The unexpected rainfall experienced in Elgin and throughout the Cape this year, seldom seen in our summer, gave me practical insight into what Burgundy goes through during harvest in terms of its ever-changing array of climatic challenges.” says Andries Burger.

After a dry winter and growing season on Paul Clüver Estate in 2022, the vineyard growing season commenced with even bud-break, flowering and veraison in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards, Paul Clüver’s flagship varieties.

“Being the coolest wine-growing region in South Africa, with steep diurnal temperature differences, our vines were healthy, disease-free and heading for even stages of ripening, predicting another quality vintage,” says Burger. “The 87mm of rain in December came at just the right time, refreshing the vines during their taxing growth stage and further cooling soils and air. Preventative spraying programmes had kept any thoughts of disease at bay, and expectations were looking to be excellent.”

Harvesting on Paul Clüver Family Wines commenced in mid-February, slightly earlier than last year, but with the first batches of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay showing Elgin’s characteristic firm acids and accurate superb ripeness, with the Pinot Noir drawing deep garnet colour during fermentation. About halfway through the harvest, the heavens opened in the first week of March. Unfortunately, some 43mm of rainfall was measured over three days, delaying picking. “Fortunately, the rain did not result in any major damage in the vineyards, and the bunches held firm as they waited for picking to re-commence. Once the rain stopped and harvesting got underway, we found that both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were ripe, but at lower sugar levels than average.”

Burger says that despite the lower sugar levels, the juice, fermenting grapes and just-fermented wines show extraordinary aromas. “It is as if the lower sugar allowed the fruit greater all round expression,” he says. “There is an enormous varietal character, vivid flavour compounds and structure showing the usual elegance our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is known for, but with regal backbone and a visceral structure.”
With further rainfall now predicted for later in March, Burger and his team managed to get the Paul Clüver vineyards harvested before the heavy rain that fell in the week of 20 March, which saw over 80mm pummelling down.

“Fortunately, we were all done and dusted by then,” says Burger. “The quality of the batches picked after the first March rains showed us that getting the grapes as soon as possible was the right call. With all fruit being hand-selected, any substandard berries were removed, underscoring our ethos of stringent quality control.” With some of the wines still undergoing spontaneous fermentation and the young wines now in the tank, foudre, barrel and concrete egg, we are pleased with the prospect of a great vintage in terms of wine quality. But I would be lying if I said that, with the amount of curveballs the summer rain gods sent our way, it was an easy harvest. On the contrary, it was challenging and nerve-wracking and showed that timing and decision-making are crucial during this most vital wine-making cycle.”

DeMorgenzon’s 2021 vintage report

DeMorgenzon Cellar Master Adam Mason has given us his thoughts and impressions about the 2021 vintage in general, and insights into how the wines are developing:

According to local data there have only been 4 vintages since 1979 in which our valley’s harvest commenced after the 12th February: 1979, 1997, 2014 and 2021. Given the increasingly early harvests over the last 6 years, one would be mistaken for thinking 2021 constitutes a late harvest, but speaking to the established farmers in the area, it is not so much a late harvest as a normal one.

Including 2015, the 6 vintages before 2021 have all been marked by early ripening, most probably associated with the accumulated stress effects of lower rainfall, earlier budburst in spring and warmer temperatures (in some but not all the years).

Solid winter rainfall in 2020 resulted in the Western Cape’s storage dams overflowing for the first time since 2014. Coupled with cold weather early into spring the wet, cold soils resulted in a delayed budburst shifting the ripening dates out by about 2 weeks on average.

This being my first vintage at DeMorgenzon, I relied on the knowledge and experience of our viticulturist Danie De Waal to weigh in on picking decisions. His knowledge of the terrain, each block’s history, and interpretation of each block’s ripening tempo was instrumental in making the best call.

Despite my eagerness to get to grips with DeMorgenzon’s grapes, Mother Nature had other plans and I had to be content to wait the additional couple of weeks for the fun to start. We settled into a steady rhythm soon enough, and below are some of my thoughts on the results of our endeavours…


There are five Chardonnay vineyards on DeMorgenzon. Our Reserve blocks are fully south-facing and offer the very best of a cool site in an otherwise warm viticultural environment. These low-yielding sites provide rich wines with good acidity and limey freshness. The fermentations are not inoculated with commercial yeast, and as a result the fermentation tempo is very slow, particularly as the wines approach dryness. I am happy with the complexity and freshness these Reserve blocks are showing but look forward to tasting them once they are completely dry.

The remaining three vineyards are on differing sites and offer slightly riper expressions of Chardonnay- more in the ripe peach, floral spectrum compared to the limey mineral quality offered by the Reserves. They will be bottled as DMZ Chardonnay.

We fermented these blocks in a combination of foudre, barrel and tank, using spontaneous fermentation for all but one of the tanks, and a few batches have gone through malolactic fermentation already. Given the high acidity this year in the earlier picked blocks, I believe the wines will age very well, growing in complexity as they do.

First impressions of this year’s Chardonnay quality are encouraging. I expect to bottle both Reserve and DMZ Chardonnays of balance, clearly displaying classic qualities of freshness, elegance, and length.

Chenin Blanc

With 11 separate Chenin Blanc vineyards planted on DeMorgenzon, this variety offers by far the most comprehensive insight into our various terroirs.

Our oldest vineyard, established in 1972, forms the core of the Reserve Chenin Blanc, and in great vintages we bottle the very best portion as DIVAS Chenin Blanc.

Reserve blocks were all whole bunch pressed and settled overnight without the use of enzymes. The following day they were racked to a selection of new and used 300L, 500L barrels as well as 3200L foudres where fermentation began spontaneously, and for the most part has progressed to dryness. Texture and finesse are the two things that come to mind as I think of the 2021 Reserve Chenin Blanc components. As one would expect, there is a fine thread of acidity throughout these wines, and at this stage I feel we have some excellent parcels in barrel.

Our winemaking approach for the DMZ blocks (essentially the younger, slightly more productive vineyards) differed only slightly from the Reserves in that there was no whole bunch pressing, and the destemmed, crushed fruit was sent not only to barrel for fermentation, but to stainless steel tanks too.

A recent tasting of a rough blend of the 2021 DMZ Chenin Blanc is exciting! The wine shows wonderfully succulent nectarine flavours, with tangy acidity and delicious length. By comparison, the Reserve components are tightly wound, which I believe to be a good thing, as we want these wines to evolve slowly once they are cellared.


Syrah ranks by volume as our largest production of red wine. We have four vineyards ranging from one of the very highest on the property (a delightful echelat style block), one lower down, but still relatively cool slope, and two on gravel type soils on the warmer, northerly slopes.

We kicked off the Syrah campaign with expressly cultivated grapes for our Rosé programme. These were destemmed and crushed before pressing in our pneumatic bag press and further cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks.

Our Reserve Syrah is blended each year from the very best demarcations of each block, which are then separately fermented and assessed for their quality. This year we fermented three parcels in small stainless-steel tanks, using 20% whole bunch additions to provide additional texture and fruit character.  

For the DMZ components, once the grapes were destemmed, rather than pumping the mash, the whole berries were gravity fed into the fermentation tanks using small satellite tanks to ensure the integrity of the grapes. None of these fermentations received the whole bunch treatment, although we did incorporate a small addition of Viognier for its well-known effects on the mouthfeel of Syrah when used this way…

The wines made from Syrah this year are exceptional in my opinion. Each vineyard expresses its own unique character but regardless of site, each displays dark colour, svelte texture, and a great depth of flavour.

2021 at Mollydooker

2021 has been a bumper harvest in South Australia, especially for Mollydooker. Holly Marquis, daughter of Mollydooker owner Sarah, has given us this update on the 2021 vintage so far, lees-fights and all!

I’m sure many of you have heard about the pristine growing conditions we had in South Australia, which has produced an abundance of exceptional fruit. After a few years of smaller yields and sold-out wines, we had just started to worry that we wouldn’t have enough wine to drink (talk about tragic!). But, as has always been the case with our magical Mollydooker story, just when we needed it, we were provided with our second biggest vintage… ever! This year saw us bring in a whopping 1388 tonnes of premium quality fruit. With all hands on deck, an incredible team of 30 vintage casuals joined the team in the cellar to help process the fruit over the last two months. 

With less COVID restrictions in place this year, the experience of working vintage in the cellar has been entirely different. Whilst last year was spent with such clean hands that no one would have known what we did for work, this year got a slight bit dirtier… With about one week left, Luke told me a tale about the antics that used to take place on the vintage casuals last day – the annual ‘lees’ fight. For those that don’t know what lees are, they’re the solids left over after we separate the wine, resembling something that looks like thick chocolate mud cake batter, but purple. After hearing these stories, myself and some accomplices took it upon ourselves to revive this tradition and well… you can all imagine the events that followed! 



Ernie Els Harvest Season

Ernie Els’ harvest season 2021

Harvest season began on 16th February 2021 at Ernie Els, a little later than they had initially anticipated. Summer was relatively short and cooler than usual, not necessarily a negative factor for grape growing.

In the vineyard, the cooler summer allowed us to stay on top of our canopy management with less need for irrigation. The berry sizes are nice and small, keeping the wine concentrated, as is our preferred style.’ Viticulturist, Leander Koekemoer

After a somewhat shorter summer, autumn arrived quickly and the subsequent days during harvest were cooler than usual, making the harvest period much longer. Together with other South African producers, they had to pause harvesting to allow for a few days of heavy rainfall to pass before harvest could be resumed again.

Winemaker Louis Strydom has described this harvest season as ‘a vintage with two halves’ as it felt like two separate harvest periods. ‘80mm of rainfall on the 10th and 11th March brought the harvest to a screeching halt for two weeks. However, we were able to proceed once the weather had settled and we are happy with what we are tasting in the cellar.’

2021 will be memorable to Ernie Els as it is the first season in their new cellar. They are experimenting with different techniques this year by making use of amphorae and concrete tanks, which will give a slower, more even fermentation. For now, the wines are resting and the team is looking forward to tasting them once they have undergone their maturation process.


2021 at Kanonkop, Stellenbosch

An overview of the 2021 harvest from Kanonkop’s Cellar Master, Abrie Beeslaar:

The growing season started reasonably well due to sufficient winter rains during 2020. Warmer periods during the latter part of the winter resulted in uneven budding, flowering and fruit set, which in turn led to some uneven ripening. The moisture levels in the soils were satisfactory throughout the growing and ripening phase, and very little moisture stress was noticeable on the vines.

The late start to the 2021 harvest was one of the distinguishing hallmarks of this vintage. In fact, during my 19-vintage tenure here at Kanonkop, this year was the latest we have ever started harvesting the Pinotage grapes, but their quality proved to be exceptional and produced wines with immense flavour and aromatic concentration.

January’s weather conditions were in line with the long-term average, but February was considerably cooler, with average temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius (max) and 13.9 degrees Celsius (min). During the 2nd week of March, we received 50mm of rain. This precipitation, combined with the cooler weather conditions, resulted in slower ripening for the late varietals and some Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards started to show signs of skin deterioration on the berries. A lovely warm spell during the 3rd week of March assisted these later-ripening vineyards to pull through, and we finished the harvest on the 30th of March. Quite a number of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards were picked slightly lower than usual at 23 degrees Balling, resulting in wines with an alcohol of around 13%.

The 2021 vintage produced elegant wines with softer tannin structures that will make them accessible and drinkable from an earlier age. My personal rating of the 2021 vintage: 4/5 stars.


2021 from New Zealand

As the 2021 harvest continues in New Zealand, we thought you might enjoy some images of the winery teams hard at work! More to follow…

Escarpment, Martinborough


Take a look at the Greystone vintage in action!

Wooing Tree, Central Otago


The 2021 harvest

As producers in the Southern Hemisphere start to gear up for vintage 2021, here’s the latest we have from some of them regarding the 2021 harvest:

Escarpment, Martinborough, New Zealand

So far the Wairarapa is sitting in an ideal spot as of 15/1/21. Martinborough is about 100mm up on average rainfall with 78 degree days, over average temperatures. Less wind over the past weeks also has helped reduce evapotranspiration so the vineyards are looking superb! Crop loads will only be average at best with some poorer flowering in December than hoped for. With veraison only a week or so away it’s all go for the vineyard crews. Final canopy adjustments, fruit thinning if needed, and mowing are well underway, then the nets go on for bird control and we hope for warm dry weather until mid-March when we expect to start harvest. Given normal weather patterns are very stable during February, we are looking forward to a great year. (Larry McKenna, January 15th)

Catherine Marshall Wines, Elgin, South Africa

The vineyards are looking very healthy – big canopies as we had a very cold, wet winter (best in years- a bit like 2014 but colder). Downy mildew has been a scourge, so more spraying has been needed as humidity levels are very high. We had a wet start and warm weather in December which is perfect for mildew but all under control. January was very hot so sugars should start pumping now. We are about 2 weeks behind from last year – due to cold, wet winter and a slow start to warming up. This may shorten as the days progress depending on temperatures. (Cathy Marshall, February 2nd)

Kanonkop, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Due to the wet winter and cool growing conditions we experienced during spring, the vines are growing at a rapid pace. The bunches are big with well-set shoulders, indicating a bigger than normal harvest, especially on the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. At this stage we are actively busy with bunch thinning/removal and breaking off bunch shoulders to facilitate better colour development in the remaining berries. Every shoot is being evaluated individually according to its thickness, length and the degree of lignification (level of ripeness). All the small bunches that develop on the side shoots, as well as the green and half-coloured ones, are removed. Bunches on short, thin or green (unripe) main shoots are also removed.

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are showing signs of early veraison, which will result in them reaching full ripeness at more or less the same time, together with some of the later-ripening Pinotage vineyards. This in turn means that the planning around cellar space, and the monitoring of sugar levels, will be crucial.

Quite a number of the older Pinotage vineyards are showing a decline in their yields. Since the start of bud break during September/October 2020, we noticed that these older vineyards were budding at a slower and more uneven rate than previous years. Their leaves were very yellow too – a direct result of the lower ground temperatures due to the extra levels of soil moisture in the early parts of spring.

At this stage there are very little signs of sunburn damage on the bunches. This is partly due to the fact that, for a number of years now, we are trying to expose the bunch zone earlier by removing green growth shortly after flowering. The result is one of “conditioning”, i.e. the berries are getting used to direct sunlight at a young age and they tend to develop a tougher skin to better protect them from the harsh sun. While the season has been relatively cool thus far, we did have some exceptional warm days from 11 – 14 January, with temperatures between 34 and 38.7 degrees Celsius. Occasional damage to leaves and bunches were caused by downy mildew. This had very little effect on the quality of the bunches, as the contaminated areas dehydrated and fell off.

We are now busy with “veraison irrigation”, which will assist with colour development in the berries as well as the rest of ripening. Ideally speaking we would have preferred it if this was the final irrigation before the harvest, but with the customary heat waves we expect during February, we will most likely still have to administer some water in order to refresh the vines.

My overall impressions are that the quality prospects for the 2021 vintage are fantastic, and I am excited to see the final results! (Annelie Viljoen, Viticulturalist, January 26th)

Waterford Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Our harvests are about to kick off and it looks like we shall be commencing just under a week later than the previous two years given the tempestuous weather we have been experiencing. The grapes are completely oblivious to the pandemic around them and are performing so beautifully… the Cabernet bunch weights and formation looking wonderful, and Chardonnay is flourishing with promise. The production teams are incredibly excited to get going as it forms a protective layer of purpose untainted by the news or dashboards detailing Covid-19’s real time illustration of destruction. (Damien Joubert-Winn, January 13th)

2020 vintage around the world

With grapes now safely in the wineries albeit with social distancing regulations in place during picking, here are a some initial thoughts about the 2020 vintage from some of our producers:

BIRD IN HAND: After the hot and dry November and December we have had very moderate conditions in January and February, and at this mid-way point in the vintage we are extremely pleased with the quality of grapes we are receiving, with the early wines looking excellent.

DARLING CELLARS: A short, bumper vintage. Sauvignon Blancs are showing beautifully, while Chenin Blancs from the old, unirrigated vines are looking amazing. Reds are showing good colour and soft, elegant tannins. 

ESCARPMENT: An absolutely stunning vintage. Great, clean, ripe grapes from correctly loaded vines. Our earliest every harvest start.

GLENELLY: The 2020 harvest was both excellent in terms of volume and quality. We finished harvest nine days ahead of schedule as the later ripening varietals came in earlier than usual. We managed to get easy extraction and the tannins are really fine on the reds. On the Chardonnays we managed phenolic ripeness at lower sugar levels. Altogether it looks like a very good vintage.

GREYSTONE: Vintage is looking great so far – beautiful clean fruit, bunches are a little small from a warm dry year so expect some firm tannins and good concentration especially in the Pinot Noir. We have eight fermenters outside at the last count so looking good to produce our reserves and Vineyard Ferment this year. Crops will be a little lower than peak but much better than last year and quality up there with the best we’ve ever handled.

KANONKOP: Throughout the season the different grape varietals were picked between 7 and 10 days earlier than normal. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were picked at lower sugar levels than the long-term average, which will result in wines with elegant structures and moderate alcohol levels. The crop was only slightly bigger than the small 2019 harvest, but the overall small berry size will deliver wines with intense flavour and aromatic spectrums. We obtained beautiful ripe tannins throughout the season, and we expect that the 2020 vintage will deliver elegant, classic wines with extended ageing potential.

RUSTENBERG: 2020 has been super. The crop is up for most varietals and the vintage is around 15% larger than average so a welcome year as we recover from the drought years of the past. Quality wise we have superb acids and more moderate alcohols in the white wines and wonderful fruit concentration in the reds with good colour and again moderate alcohols; so 2020 is a good vintage by our estimations quality wise, whether it is a great vintage will be seen in the coming months.

Harvest 2020 at Greystone – interim report

A cold, crisp winter allowed pruning to go through unimpeded compared to some of the wet winters in past years but left the grounds dry for start of the season. A late frost hit some of our lower blocks which decreased yields a small amount but nothing bad. Great flowering this year (especially relevant after last year’s poor one) so we saw nice bunches with good bunch architecture – in particular for the Pinot Noir. A very dry Christmas period saw us go 46 days without rain so the berries have thick skins and intense concentration. Drought broke early enough to avoid fruit splitting and we ended up with some of our best looking fruit ever.

Thankfully the early start to harvest allowed us to complete harvest approximately two hours before the Covid lockdown began (although there is still some Riesling to pick later and we will have to do that by machine). We have eight fermenters outside so it’s looking good to produce our reserves and Vineyard Ferment this year. Crops will be a little lower than peak but much better than last year and quality up there with the best we’ve ever handled and very little disease if any.

Our winemaking team is operating in isolation at the winery with food being delivered to them – which at least gives our cellar door chefs something to keep them entertained right now!

Greystone, March 2020

2019 at Bird in Hand

A challenging 2019 growing season started with May to September’s total rainfall being 33% below average – resulting in low subsoil moisture levels. Low lying areas were affected by several frosty mornings in late September and early October.

Generally mild spring conditions resulted in a later and longer flowering period, which was further interrupted by a severe spring storm in late November. Heavy rain, strong winds and patches of hail caused damage to shoots and bunches, resulting in poor flowering for most varieties across the region.

Cooler than average weather throughout December slowed berry development, suggesting that the 2019 vintage would be later than average.

However, a very hot and dry January and February reversed this trend, and, when combined with low crop loads, grapes transitioned quickly through veraison and began to ripen rapidly.

Careful irrigation management and harvest scheduling ensured that grapes for whites and sparkling were still harvested at the optimal time for flavour and style, with most varieties holding good natural acidity. Yields in most varieties were down, and varied considerably from vineyard to vineyard depending on how the set had been affected by the November storm at flowering. Some vineyards had yields down 30-40% in whites and Pinot, others only 10-20%. Fortunately we were able to source some new vineyards of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and our overall production of these varieties ended pretty close to requirements.

Quality of all of our whites and our Pinot Noir Sparkling base and Rosé look excellent. The higher natural acidity of the vintage has meant all varieties show a great deal of freshness, and varietal characters are very good despite the hot January/February due to the cool spring and cool and dry autumn.

Cooler and dry conditions from mid-March into April also provided ideal conditions for ripening of red varieties, which combined with the lower crops, resulted in outstanding development of flavour, colour and tannins. Hence for the reds the result is very good quality, but unfortunately volumes are down considerably.

Overall a tricky vintage that in the end we are very pleased with in terms of quality.

Kym Milne MW, winemaker, August 2019

Escarpment’s 2019 vintage

2019 will always be remembered by me, for a devastating frost which occurred on October 18th 2018. It is extremely disappointing that in a matter of 3 or 4 hours the whole season can be damaged so severely. Very disheartening for all involved especially the vineyard guys who work so hard all year, and have to largely rely on nature to deliver a reasonable crop.

From then ’till Christmas we enjoyed a wetter than normal spring which also impacted on the quality of the flowering. Spring gave us a perfect start to summer with plenty of canopy and soil water stored for the drier months. Summer was ideal with healthy canopies and no disease pressure. We started (and finished) vintage earlier than ever before. Maybe to do with climate change, but I believe it was more about large canopies driving small crops so things ripened rapidly and very successfully. A season very similar to 2017/18 with average rainfall between September 1st and April 9th. Heat summation for the same period was 169 degree days higher than the long term average (1138°C days) or about 15% up.

The Pinot Noir we have picked at this early stage looks and tastes fantastic. Deep ripe colours, loads of fruit and soft ripe tannins. They will be long term wines with great depth of character.

The perfect summer has given us classic Chardonnay. Very clean, ripe flavours and adequate acid. These wines should be in keeping with the style we have been exploring since 2010. Complex aromas and flavours, restrained acids, and fresh lively fruit flavours.

Pinot Gris looks to be a stunner. Real depth of flavour edging into Gewürztraminer flavour profiles, most likely due to the smaller crop.

Sadly the frost has dealt a blow to our ever increasingly popular Pinot Blanc. It was totalled! Next year!

Larry McKenna, winemaker