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2013 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report: South Africa

A first look at vintage quality, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers

James Molesworth
Posted: June 7, 2013

Ready to taste the first wines of 2013? While vines are just flowering in Europe and North America, the Southern Hemisphere has picked, crushed and fermented this year's crop. South African grapegrowers enjoyed a wet winter, meaning healthy yields, followed by a dry, warm summer. But rain during harvest made picking anxious at times.

Here's a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. Check out Wednesday's report on Australia and New Zealand and Thursday's on Argentina and Chile.

South Africa

The good news: South Africa's 2013 harvest has drawn praise from most producers, with a strong start and finish to the growing season

The bad news: A bit of rain and humidity mid-harvest forced some producers to scramble for proper canopy management and gamble, successfully, on better weather late

Picking started: February

Promising grapes: Early-ripening whites, including Chardonnay, were strong, while late-ripening red Bordeaux varieties were also promising, but in a more elegant style

Analysis: “The 2013 vintage was without a doubt one of the most challenging yet rewarding vintages of the past few years,” said Jean Smit, winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof, a top Cabernet, Sémillon and Syrah producer located in the Franschhoek Valley. “Superb winter and spring conditions set the stage. But this was followed by occasional humid conditions in February and March which meant that canopy management before veraison was the key to healthy fruit.”

“The general consensus is the season was a good one, with quantity up around 5 to 20 percent, depending on where you were, and good quality thanks to a long, lovely ripening period,” said Rose Jordaan, owner at Bartinney in Stellenbosch. “Our only challenge was a lot of rain and cold over Easter when we were mid-harvest, so we did selective picking and berry selection on the sorting tables so we didn't compromise quality.”

In the Swartland district, the qualitative epicenter for Rhône varieties, producers noted that early heat was balanced by a late spate of rain. “The weather was quite different from the last five vintages,” said Adi Badenhorst, owner and winemaker at A.A. Badenhorst Family in the Swartland. “Good winter rains led to even budding and vigorous growth, so a larger crop but less need for green harvesting. The summer was drier and this put the vines in some stress, but we were happy to have the heat early and then a bit of rain in February which really helped the old Cinsault and Grenache vines. Overall, reds are outstanding I think."

With myriad climates, terroirs and grape varieties, blanket assessments are difficult for any South African harvest. As Ken Forrester, owner and winemaker at his eponymous winery, cautioned, “2013 will be the odd vintage where the actual grower will be the deciding factor, together with region and variety. A complex vintage by any measure, but certainly some intense, balanced wines from the patient producers.”

No Credit

Sorting through Syrah at Stark-Condé in Stellenbosch.

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