The 2005 vintage in South Africa was marked by hot, dry conditions that produced small crops of concentrated red grapes. Whites were brought in earlier in the season under cooler conditions, with more variability.
"All taken into consideration, not the easiest harvest, but definitely a very good one," said Albie Koch, winemaker at De Toren in Stellenbosch.
A dry winter continued the recent drought in the prime growing areas of Stellenbosch and Paarl, but significant rainfall in October helped jumpstart the vines and replenish the parched soils. The growing season of December and January remained dry, but slightly cooler than usual, until a major rainstorm at the end of January.
Growers reported good results with Sauvignon Blanc, one of the Cape region's top white varieties, although the size of the crop was reduced. "The Sauvignon Blanc benefited from a smaller crop and cool conditions, producing very expressive wines," said Charles Back, owner of Fairview.
Among other whites, winemakers said, the Chardonnay crop was also small and produced tropical fruit-flavored wines with soft finishes, while Chenin Blanc performed well. "Chenin Blanc should be excellent," said Teddy Hall, owner and winemaker of Rudera wines, who noted that enough botrytis formed this year to produce sweet wines.
The second half of the season was very hot and dry, leading to ripe, richly tannic reds that many producers compared to their wines from 2000, another top vintage for South Africa. Most growers reported that crop levels for red grapes were similar to those of previous years, which were also marked by drought.
Dark colors and muscular tannins typify the Cabernet Sauvignons, and Syrah, which has become the country's leading red variety in terms of quality, performed very well. "It's undoubtedly the star of the vintage," said Johan Malan, winemaker of Simonsberg winery in Stellenbosch.