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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)