The exact opposite was true of the viticultural regions in the Northern Cape, where unprecedented rainfall occurred from December to February. This resulted in fungal diseases and big volumes of table and drying grapes were also delivered to the wine cellars.
In the Western Cape the favourable and normal weather conditions experienced during the ripening and harvest period, together with the smaller crop, meant that there were hardly any problems with harvesting the grapes at their optimum degree of ripeness. Even where dryland vines suffered, good quality grapes and wines were reported.
Due to this year’s conditions, sugar development in the grapes occurred at a faster rate than the development and ripening of other grape components such as colour and tannins, for example. On the whole harvesting therefore took place at a higher sugar level to ensure that all the grape components had reached optimal ripeness. Consequently the total acid content of the grapes was lower this year and the pH slightly higher.
The harvest trends in the various wine regions, compared to 1999, may be seen in Figure 4 (below).
ORANGE RIVER DIRK MALAN
The wine grape crop for 2000 is approximately 11% bigger than last year’s crop. The bigger crop may be ascribed to weather conditions that did not favour drying of sultanas, as well as young vines, which have started to bear the last few years.
From budding to the end of December it looked like a record crop, as there was hardly any frost and hail. From the beginning of December until the end of January and from mid February unprecedented rainfall occurred throughout the region – mostly more than double the annual rainfall. The region experienced the most serious outbreak of downy mildew in its history. Several blocks cast off all their leaves and the grapes of some blocks were destroyed as a result of the downy mildew and sunburn. This was another reason why grapes had to be harvested despite a low sugar content and explains why this is the first crop in the history of the Orange River region with average sugars for the crop falling below 20B.
This low sugar content also caused losses of almost 11 million litres of juice in the production of grape juice for concentrate. The quality of the wines is encouraging – mainly due to the selection of grapes intended for winemaking. Although the white wines show slightly less flavour, there are a few exceptional wines.
Despite very inclement conditions due to a long, hot and dry summer, it appears that the region may expect a 7% smaller crop than last year. This is approximately 10 000 tons less than the previous highest crop in 1990.
The good crop in the current season may be ascribed to increased plantings – approximately 1 000 hectares – since 1996.
As a result of the warmer climatic conditions prevalent throughout the entire growing season, the quality of the early cultivars such as Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc was expected to be lower, but improved foliage management ensured that this was not the case. Problems with delayed budding occurred particularly in Chardonnay, and as a result production was considerably reduced. The warmer summer weather favoured this cultivar, however, and fully ripe grapes were harvested, as in the case of the red cultivars, production of which is now beginning to show a marked increase.
The warmer weather also caused sugars in the red cultivars to rise rapidly, without the grapes having reached physiological ripeness. By harvesting at slightly higher sugars this year, full-bodied red wines with excellent colour could be made.
Towards the end of the season a few blocks of Colombar struggled to ripen, due mainly to high production levels and the occurrence of downy mildew late in the season, leaving the vines without effective leaves. Other diseases such as oidium and botrytis were almost non-existent. In general juice recovery was lower this year.
Although the ripening period was characterised by persistent heat, the average quality of wines appears good. White wines are generally better than in 1999 and this is due mainly to grape selection and monitoring of ripeness. Red wines are promising and underline the potential for making quality red wine in this region. Merlot and Shiraz have particularly impressive body, colour and balance on taste.
The crop size for 2000 was approximately 1% bigger than the 1999 crop. The reason was the favourable flower initiation period in 1998.
This year the climatic conditions were once again the biggest factor to influence quality and crop size. Late winter rains in August and September supplemented the soil moisture, but extremely hot and dry conditions in December and January put enormous pressure on dryland vineyards.
The quality of Chenin and Sauvignon blanc suffered most as a result of the extreme heat. Late red cultivars did not ripen under ideal conditions either, therefore sugar and pH were high and acids low.
After the exceptionally warm conditions in January, February was cooler than last year. The nights were also cooler, which resulted in good colour formation in red cultivars. On the whole the grapes were very healthy with hardly any sign of mealybug or odium.
The heatwaves and prolonged drought during the ripening period brought about varying results in wine quality. While some red grapes benefited from the small berries, producing above-average wines, other grapes suffered from the drought. These grapes ripened under moisture stress conditions and high pHs and low sugars occurred. The wine quality of these grapes is average. White wines generally have less flavour than usual, but there are a few exceptional Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc wines. Chardonnay wines have lots of body and good cultivar character.
The 2000 crop was approximately 25% smaller than that of 1999 and the lowest since 1986. This drastic reduction in the crop is mainly due to abnormal climatic conditions.
A very dry and warm winter was followed by an equally dry, early summer. The result was a serious water shortage in most of the Little Karoo. Lots of vineyards were thus subjected to excessive moisture stress, resulting in smaller berries and therefore lighter bunches. Sporadic thunderstorms and precipitation’s from the end of December brought welcome relief for most producers. However, December was also characterised by above-average heat, which had a negative influence on acid content in grapes.
From the beginning of March, humid weather with intermittent south-easterly rains created favourable infection periods for fungal diseases such as downy mildew and odium. In some areas botrytis rot occurred in the late cultivars. In many instances the high disease pressure in the post-harvest period resulted in early loss of foliage.
The grape quality of noble cultivars in particular, e.g. Chardonnay, was generally very good and may be ascribed to more market oriented production practices. The quality of the red grapes in the cooler areas within the Little Karoo region is also very promising.
Despite the crop’s being smaller, heat played a decisive role in the quality of the 2000 crop. White wines suffered most and Chenin blanc and Colombar have little flavour. Sweet and red wines are looking better than white wines. High pH and low acids were common.
The 2000 crop size for the Paarl district was approximately 0,4% smaller than that of 1999. The smaller crop may be ascribed to the extreme heat and dry conditions in December and January.
Good and late winter rains in August and September supplemented soil moisture after an initially dry winter. After a normal spring, December and January were exceptionally warm, followed by a cooler February. The quality and size of the early white cultivars suffered as a result, in particular Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc.
February, with its cooler nights, resulted in good colour formation in red grapes, but pHs were high and acids relatively low. This year winemaking techniques also played a big role in the quality of the wines. What initially looked like an early season, did not end until the beginning of April. Grapes were very healthy with hardly any sign of mealybug or oidium.
Heatwaves and prolonged drought left their mark on the white and red wines. Although there are some excellent Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc wines, the general feeling is that these wines have less flavour than usual. Chardonnay is looking good and the final products are keenly anticipated. On the whole, red grapes have higher pHs and lower acids than usual and adjustments were necessary in the cellars. Wines are currently showing excellent cultivar characteristics and are full-bodied with good colour, except for wines made from grapes produced in vineyards where leafroll was common. These grapes struggled to achieve optimal ripeness.
LEON DIPPENAAR AND BRIAAN STIPP
The 2000 crop is approximately 20% smaller than that of 1999, mainly as a result of inclement weather conditions. The low yield was furthermore caused by a more generalised application of quality oriented practices, such as suckering, unripe bunch removal and improved irrigation management.
A warm, dry winter resulted in the accumulation of fewer cold units and this again caused uneven budding. No serious cases of frost damage were reported. The early summer was characterised by high temperatures and little rain, while December and January experienced quite a few heatwaves. Until mid February, disease pressure was very low. Hail damage occurred in patches and some vineyards suffered from sunburn and sulphur burn.
The second half of February and the whole of March were characterised by prevailing South-easterly weather conditions, bringing cloudy weather with regular light rain showers, which resulted in conditions for rapid botrytis infection. The late cultivars in particular, both red and white, suffered as a result. These favourable conditions caused rapid infection, which in turn put a lot of pressure on the cellar intakes. The post-harvest period was characterised by severe fungal disease pressure and the vines were casting off their leaves at an early stage.
Early cultivars such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Pinotage rapidly accumulated sugar and were mostly ripe before conditions became favourable for botrytis. Due to the warm weather conditions in the ripening period, low acids and high pHs were common.
The relatively dry conditions during ripening, together with rain in the later stages of harvesting, had a detrimental effect on wine quality. On the whole white wines have less flavour, lower acids and higher pHs. That said, some exceptional wines were made, Chardonnay’s and Colombar’s in particular. Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc have relatively little flavour. At this early stage red wines are looking very promising. Very good balance is found between fruit and tannin, with above-average colour intensity.
JOHAN PIENAAR AND COBUS VAN GRAAN
At this stage the total crop of the Stellenbosch region appears to be 0,5% smaller than last year. This may be ascribed mainly to the hot and dry season, one of the most severe ever.
After a good winter there were high expectations for the 1999-2000 crop. However, a lot of vineyards suffered from delayed/uneven budding which in turn resulted in grapes not ripening uniformly.
The early summer was characterised by higher than average temperatures and little rain occurred at this stage. Furthermore strong easterly and south-easterly winds had a scorching effect on the soil. This phenomenon lasted until the harvest. Cooler night temperatures towards the end of January and in February caused good colour formation in red wines.
In general the analyses of the grape cultivars showed above-average pHs and lower acids. There was little rot, but sunburn was more common.
The December heat was conducive to smaller berries. In vineyards where sufficient soil moisture was present for grapes to ripen optimally, the favourable juice/skin ratio resulted in above-average red wines. High pHs and low sugars were common, however. White wines from grapes grown in cooler areas or on cooler sites look very promising.
Exceptional wines this year are Merlot, Shiraz and Chardonnay.
SCHALK DU TOIT
The record crop of 1999, the dry post-harvest period followed by a relatively warm dry winter, heatwaves, high dew levels and intermittent rain showers during the harvesting season were the main causes of a smaller 2000 crop. At present the 2000 crop is expected to be approximately 10% smaller than that of 1999. Increased plantings of moderately yielding cultivars and uprooting of mass bearers also had a negative effect on total production trends.
Automatic weather stations and timely warnings enabled producers to follow good preventive spraying programmes and limit the unnecessary application of chemical sprays. Scientific soil moisture measurements enable more judicious supplementary irrigation. The smaller berries and more balanced vigour thus obtained result in lower production and better quality.
Winemakers deliberately harvest at higher sugar levels in an attempt to achieve grape physiological ripeness and especially to ensure more body in red wines. Acids were moderate to low and pHs high to acceptable. Juice recovery was lower than usual.
Despite difficult harvesting conditions, above-average wines are expected, with producers and winemakers availing themselves of new technology. Good individual wines may result from strict block selections and experimentation with new winemaking techniques. Exposure to overseas and local market forces furthermore contributed to greater focus on quality production.
White wines are flavourful and Chardonnay in particular is full-bodied with a fair amount of flavour. The majority of the white wines have less flavour than last year, however, with Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc in particular suffering from the warm dry conditions. The red wines have good potential with high alcohols and full-bodied fruit flavours, while Ruby Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular are looking above-average.
The oenological contributions of KWV’s grape and wine buyers/wine experts, Chris Albertyn, Deon van der Merwe and Hannes Louw, are acknowledged with thanks.
Thanks are also due to Paiter Botha, agricultural economist, VinPro (SA), who compiled the table and figures, and SAWIS, who provided crop and vine statistics.
Lastly, thanks to Johan Strydom of ISCW, who provided climatological information.