Log In / Join Now

Blogging Through the Smoke

Ken Forrester is harvesting Chenin Blanc amid bushfires in South Africa.
2009 Southern Harvest Winemakers
See Also

Posted: Feb 27, 2009 10:45am ET

By Ken Forrester

Posted by Ken Forrester

Well, it seems like half of the Southern Hemisphere is burning. We have had an ongoing run of bushfires, called veld fires here in South Africa, and just as the firefighters seem to get a fire under control, it flares up again a little further away. The hardest part is that most of this is taking place in the mountains around Stellenbosch, and vineyards like Tokara, Trafford, Morgenster, Vergelegen, as well as many others, have all suffered losses—completely razed vineyards in some cases, and massive damage.

The helicopters are water bombing the high peaks and just trying to finally get a hold on these devastating fires. In the thick of all this we’re still managing to play some rugby and, believe it or not, even picking some grapes.

Here in Stellenbosch we have had a really cool season and most of the vineyards are about two weeks later than last year, with brilliant analysis, great natural acidity and so far, no rush. In fact, we’ve had a couple of days this week to tidy up and get the place all shipshape. Great rugby on the weekend: The Blues really took a bad beating, their second in a row, and currently South Africa is lying 1st and 4th on the log but there’s a lot of rugby still to come in the Super 14.

Most of our Chenin Blanc is now fermenting, with the balance due to come in from now until Monday. We’ve done three selective pickings using our Normalized Difference Vegetation Index technology that was initially part of the Cold War spy technology for hi-resolution photos from satellite. This gives us a digital GPS view of the vineyard at celestial noon, and we then overlay that with a near-infrared filter. From that, we select the areas of vineyard with identical signatures to go and pick grapes that will be the most similar on any one day, hence we avoid the negative effect of averaging down on sugars, acid and fruit quality in general. Great tool for harvesting, and we have really seen the quality improvement in the last three years.

Our Grenache grapes up in the Swartland ward near Wellington, along one of the high valleys in the Paardeberg, are looking good. All the bunches are through veraison and I expect we will be able to harvest in the next 10 to 12 days, before then we will certainly have to get to the Merlot, and perhaps the Cab Franc, so there’s loads of picking left and little chance of it all being done before Easter, or the final of the Super 14. Hopefully the fires will be well under control before then! Until next time.

Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  February 28, 2009 7:52am ET
Ken does that spy technology only work for white grape varieties or all varieties? Never heard of someone using that before. Best of luck with the harvest!
Ken Forrester
Stellenbosch South Africa —  February 28, 2009 9:51am ET
Hi Karl,No this works for all culivars and even othercrops, in essence wha you read is the reflective index of the leaf surface, hence the density of the vegetation.go look up NDVI on google there's lots of info.Ken
Peter Cargasacchi
Sta. Rita Hills —  March 9, 2009 3:03pm ET
Wow. The way you are determining ripeness for selective picking is amazing! Good luck!

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.