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Harvesting Sauvignon (With an Eye on the Rugby Match)

Ken Forrester thinks it might be the Aussies' year in the rugby tournament.
2009 Southern Harvest Winemakers
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Posted: Feb 17, 2009 12:03pm ET

By Ken Forrester

Posted by Ken Forrester

With the Super 14 Rugby series underway, my home team, the Stormers (Western Cape), took a knock in the second half from the Sharks (Kwa Zulu Natal), but Australia had a poor start, with their Reds taking a severe beating from the Bulls (Northern Province). In fact, one of the commentators said that "for the first 20 minutes it appeared that the Queenslanders (Reds) had been led into an ambush; however, they did manage at least to put up a score line and came away the losers, with their pride intact." Lots of rugby ahead of us and no doubt there will be a few surprises. The Australians have an absolutely bare trophy cabinet to try and fill—they’ve had a poor run lately and lost almost everything! I think they’ll be the ones to watch, but it remains to be seen whether they're hungry enough to take it.

More important—perhaps!—the grapes are coming in. We're getting some wonderful analyses from our Sauvignon Blanc vineyards here in the cool Stellenbosch region, just 5 km from the Atlantic and False Bay. Our sugars are sitting at around 21 to 21.5 B (Brix) with total acidity at 9-plus and pH really low, mainly just around 3.1 to 3.2—really good stuff, with nice phenolics and loads of passion fruit and fig flavors. We have almost 30 folks out there picking, starting at first light, just around 6 a.m.

These autumn days, the light from the sunrise changes so quickly that we lose almost two minutes a day as the sun starts tracing its path back northward. No doubt in the Northern Hemisphere you’re feeling that effect as well, as the days start getting a little longer. I guess it's all relative. I have a friend in Edmonton who tells me that things are "much warmer now" at around minus-14° C. It's hard to even comprehend as we bask in the low- to mid-thirties Celsius, getting all our picking done by midday specifically to avoid the afternoon heat so we can preserve the fruit and ensure the freshest, coolest grapes delivered to the cellar.

With the first Sauvignon Blanc well on it’s way to the press, we will be looking to harvest some Chenin Blanc on Wednesday. Lots of botrytis is starting to show. Botrytis Cinerea, Noble Rot, edelfäule … whatever you like to call it, it's the specific selective fungus responsible for those beautiful, golden, late-harvest, sweet wines. We will want to get these bunches in before that infestation really takes hold. At this stage, it shows as a ring of darker berries right around the middle of the bunch. Just the humidity now will cause those noble spores to go crazy and infest the bunches. We find that just a little does add flavor and is great for character in the wine, but we're talking a little, say generally under 4 percent or 5 percent. It's going to be a race to get that fruit in and in good shape, and there is some rain in the forecast for Wednesday, just to load the deck a little. As usual, there's no pressure until the chaos arrives!

Our Merlot seems to be ripening well and shows some really tasty berry fruit flavors, almost blueberry and mulberry. We're waiting for the seeds to lignite (darken) as the tannins achieve full ripeness. By all accounts, however, it could be ready by the end of the week or, at the very latest, early next week. Then we'll be looking to the Syrah vineyard. It's happening all over.

There’s no doubt about it—we are in the harvest. Soon we'll be spending the evenings finishing off the last pressings, cleaning up and getting the cellar ready for the onslaught of grapes in the morning, moving wine around to make space in the tanks, filling barrels, getting a little short-tempered … no just kidding! It’s all in a day's work, and there’s nothing like harvest to stretch you and tire you out completely, especially as we get to the back end of five to six weeks and it's still the same game.

See you soon. Chin up to the Queenslanders, and good luck to all the teams as the Super 14 gets into high gear in the weeks ahead!

Andrew Bernardo
Halifax, Nova Scotia —  February 18, 2009 10:49am ET
Ken,Rugby and Wine, my two passions in life. Some great games on the docket this week. What are your picks?

I'll toast you and the Stormers v. Reds game with my last remaining bottle of The Gypsy 2004.

Ken Forrester
Stellenbosch —  February 19, 2009 11:24am ET
Hi Andrew,I think the teams are all a little rough on the edges and we could be in for a few surprises before they settle down. The Gypsy however should be great, that will have settled nicely, we have already released the 05 and have just bottled the 06 both of which are looking great, thanks for the support.Kind regards

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