Callie van Niekerk, head of Distell's winery operations

Great vintage, says Distell, with grapes ripening at lower sugars
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Ongoing advances in vineyard management together with very favourable climatic conditions in the lead-up to the 2013 harvest had produced an absolutely outstanding vintage for the Cape, according to Callie van Niekerk, who heads Distell's winery operations.

Yields were as much as 8% up on last year, notwithstanding isolated pockets of wind damage that occurred in late 2012.

While grapes from all the major wine-growing areas across the Cape had delivered excellent varietal expression of flavour, what made the 2013 vintage most noteworthy, he said, was that ripeness amongst whites and reds had been achieved at lower sugar levels.

"We have been working very hard on our own farms and with suppliers over the past five years to attain the best possible balance between effective leaf surface area and crop load so with each vintage, we are better placed to produce ever better quality and still increase output.  We are certainly seeing the results of our improved viticultural practices but were, of course, also greatly helped by the weather this vintage, as well as by well-motivated, well-trained farm workers."

Van Niekerk said the harvesting season had been significantly compressed, starting later than usual in January by as much as 10 days. Moderate summer temperatures with few heat waves and a marked contrast between day and night temperatures had contributed to controlled ripening with good colour and flavour concentration.

"Not even the bout of rain in February set us back. It came at just the right time to replenish moisture in the soils and avoid undue water stress of the vines.”

"White varieties have shown very appealing aromatic characters and excellent balance between fruit acids and sugars. Reds have come in with intense colour, great flavours and generally smooth and soft tannins.  Ripening at lower sugar levels means we can make wines of refinement and elegance. Our preliminary tastings of the 2013 wines more than amply bear this out."

He said that worldwide, winemakers were pursuing optimal ripeness at lower sugar levels for enhanced enjoyment amongst wine drinkers. "Our goal is to make refreshing, well-balanced, food-friendly wines."

Turning to the conditions preceding the harvest, he said: "The low winter temperatures allowed the vines to go into proper dormancy while the consistent rainfall built up good moisture reserves in the soil. We were very fortunate that the rains continued into mid-October. A mild spring saw even bud burst of the vines and good flowering, berry set and berry development. Early summer temperatures remained moderate.

Van Niekerk said Stellenbosch, Helderberg, Bottelary Hills, as well as cooler-climate areas such as Gansbaai, Durbanville, Darling and Philadelphia had stood out for the exceptional quality these areas produced this year.

Erhard Wolf, Distell's chief of grape and wine buying, said that the innovative ideas and practices Distell's viticultural team had been gathering internationally and adapting for local conditions in recent years, continued to show very promising results, accentuated this harvest by ideal climatic conditions.

"We have introduced more sprawling trellising to promote dappled sunlight and the health of the fruit while cooling down the bunch zones during mid-summer. We are using more effective intra-vineyard irrigation monitoring systems and we have improved ways of measuring physiological grape ripeness. All these steps have resulted in many benefits. We are better able to express terroir, with better balance in the fruit and lower sugar levels while also reducing water usage.”

"All round this is an excellent year, so expect to see some superb 2013 Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular."

He added that in addition to the major red and white varietals, the Distell team was experiencing very promising results amongst the lesser-known varietals such as Viognier, Grenache,  Carignan, Mourvèdre Barbera and Roussanne.



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