You might be wondering what the effect of the current drought in the Western Cape has had on our harvest and the vines. Seeing that we are now (at long last) done with harvest 2018, I’ll do my best at summing it up for you.
Ample amounts of water creates a happy vine – a vine that doesn’t care about the future and lives for the now. It’s a lavish lifestyle of growing long shoots with huge leaves and massive bunches with average-flavoured, big, thin-skinned berries. A lifestyle that results in a show-off plant with very little personality – each one trying to outdo its peers. The wines made from these grapes are often generic and suburban with non-distinct personalities. And if you then top-up the indulgence by adding a bit of rain in the late-ripening stage, the grapes rot. And that was harvest 2014 . (A bit like a first-year student with too much money who spends it all on booze and the wrong girls)
In 2015, the rains did not come as expected and it started getting drier and a bit tougher for the vines. The vine suddenly starts to think about life and realises that the only chance it has to produce a heritage of his own is to get a head start by ensuring that his grapes taste the best and ripens first (in comparison to those of his peers). The birds need to eat his grapes, which gives him the advantage of spreading his seed via the bird droppings… creating the next generation. So he starts pumping all his available resources towards his bunches. He starts to care less what everyone thinks of him and his appearance. This results in shorter shoots with smaller leaves. He naturally reduces his crop slightly and starts focusing on quality rather than quantity. With the spared energy, he produces smaller, thick-skinned berries with tannins ripening just a tad earlier than his rivals. The berries have a lower juice vs skin ratio resulting in a wine with deep colour, layers of flavour and ripe tannins – super balanced extraction. The vine feeds off the (just enough) water in the soil and refrains from taking the acid in the berries. It is this acid that ultimately creates the backbone in a wine. 2015 and 2017 were years like that. Stellar vintages! (In 2016 there were still enough water but we had a curve ball in the form of a 5 week heatwave – but that’s a newsletter on its own so let’s not go there for now.)
Then, in winter 2017, for the 3rd year in a row, the rain did not come. The soil became drier and drier and the vine did everything in its power to get its grapes to be the best it can be. But 3/4 into the ripening phase it ran out of water. So the berries became even smaller than the previous year, which resulted in a lighter crop in 2018. The vine knows the birds don’t care much about the acid levels in the berries, so the plant focused on getting the berries as sweet as possible. When it ran out of water completely, it shut down and in order to survive, it started feeding on the acid stored in the berries. This, in turn, resulted in a drop in acid in the last few days of ripening. Now, bear in mind, this all only applies to the vine that had a little bit of water to start off with. The vine in the soil that started off with no water, however, went into early shut-down and basically only focused on survival. Its seeds were the least of its worries and it shut production down completely in order to stay alive – no grapes as a result. And in cases where the soil got even drier, the vines simply died.
And this, sadly, is the influence the drought has had on the 2018 harvest. So, next year when the time comes for releasing the 2018’s, you’ll notice lower alcohols as a result of much earlier pickings (just before the plant started feeding on the acid in the berries), a missing vintage here and there with all volumes down quite a bit and some wines never to be repeated ever again. But such is the life of vines. And then of course, as usual, we are continually running plenty experiments which could result in some very interesting new wines to come.