It's summertime in the U.S. and Europe and grapevines are still flowering, but there's wine aging in barrels down south, in the Southern Hemisphere, that is. The 2011-2012 growing season was slow and smooth in South African wine regions. A dry winter led to reduced yields, but a cool summer allowed grapes to ripen gradually, producing promising quality.
Here's a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. Check out Tuesday's report on Chile and Argentina, and check back Thursday for Australia and New Zealand.
The 2012 growing season in South Africa was marked by cool and dry weather conditions that led to reduced crops and small berries. But vintners are very happy with the overall results, thanks to a harvest that was pressure free in March and April.
“The harvest period was about as ideal as I've ever experienced,” said David Trafford, whose Stellenbosch-based de Trafford winery produces some of the country's best Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. “During the first three weeks of February, usually our hottest month, the temperature only went over 26 degrees Celsius [79° F] for two days.”
The 2012 growing season began with the third straight year of noticeably dry conditions, following a winter with lower-than-usual rain levels. That, combined with a cool start to spring, resulted in reduced fruit set. Many producers noted markedly reduced crop yields. “In many parcels, we had great ripeness at relatively low alcohol levels,” said Chris Mullineux of Mullineux Vineyards, located in the Swartland region. “But yields are down between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the parcel.”
Harvesting on the Western Cape. (Photo Courtesy Ernie Els Wines)
The Cape's typical February heat wave came early, in January, giving the vines a chance to recover from the warmth. Cool and dry conditions prevailed through most of the season, sugars ripened gradually, allowing producers to bring in fully ripe fruit.
“With the cool, dry conditions, disease pressure was very low and the resulting crop was very clean,” said Marc Kent, owner of Boekenhoutskloof winery in Franschhoek.
“The overall effect [of the growing season] was that alcohols are not very high, but with superb phenolic ripeness,” said David Finlayson of Finlayson Family in Stellenbosch. "If we ever had a vintage that was close to a dry Bordeaux vintage, this is it. The reds are intensely concentrated and the whites are smooth and creamy."
Deep in the must at Keermont Vineyards in Stellenbosch. (Photo by Alain Proust)