Nicolaas Rust, Cellarmaster at uniWines Vineyards

Steering the uniWines Vineyards harvest ship
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Any winemaker will tell you that it is risky to venture a prediction on the outcome of a given harvest. How and when a vineyard will yield its grapes is entirely dependent upon nature, which is certainly one of the least predictable factors in life.

Most winemakers could however venture a bet on a promising harvest in 2013, which began later than usual following a long, cold and wet winter. The cold weather persisted until late last year, which provided an optimal resting period for the vines.

According to the Group Cellarmaster of uniWines Vineyards, Nicolaas Rust, the 2013 season commenced with Sauvignon Blanc grapes which were harvested about one week later than usual. "Just as we were gaining momentum in the cellar, with grapes arriving at a steady speed, the sugar levels in the vineyards became stagnant, and it almost felt like this harvest could not get off the ground."

"Yet, as often happens in our profession, as soon as the sugar levels rose again all the grape cultivars ripened at the same time, and believe me, such a bottleneck situation can cause quite a few anxious moments in the cellar!"

Nicolaas is very pleased however with the quality of grapes received thus far, and this quality has been carried through to the wine tanks where the juice is fermenting. "The balance between pH, acidity and sugar is perfect, and as a winemaker you cannot ask for more than this. It is especially pleasing to see high, lively acidities which lend structure and freshness to the wines, which is what the market wants."

During harvest time the days are long, and seemingly never-ending! The cellars start to receive grapes at 06h00, and by 23h00 the presses will have processed the last fruit. Moreover, the combined harvest average of the three uniWines cellars amounts to a demanding 1 250 tons of grapes per day.

Hence Nicolaas stresses the importance of meticulous planning in ensuring a successful harvest season. "Our viticulturist, Gert Engelbrecht, and I meet daily to do our harvest planning according to the ripeness levels in our various producers' vineyards. By doing our planning a day in advance, we can sufficiently prepare our cellar equipment and staff so that they are ready for the grapes to be harvested on any given day."

Next year Nicolaas, who grew up in Malmesbury in the Swartland region, will celebrate 20 years of making wine. He has one clear goal when it comes to applying his craft, and that is to ensure that the winemaking process and the end product in the bottle reflect a true expression of the grapes in the vineyard. Wine is, after all, a gift from nature, and the ultimate product must do justice to its origin.

Nicolaas, whose favourite wine cultivars are Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, remains humble about his accomplishments. However, as legendary winemaker Duimpie Bayly once aptly remarked, no horse has ever managed to win the Durban July without a jockey!

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