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Harvest Report 8 - It's a wrap in some regions

Harvest in Darling and Robertson is practically over, but Constantia and Vredendal wineries still have a way to go, writes Kim Maxwell.

John Loubser is upbeat about 2006 whites at Constantia's Steenberg. Showing partially fermented tank samples of their last Steenberg Reserve – a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc block - harvested on March 6 and fermented at 12 - 13°C, a mange tout character shows through fermentation sweetness. In two tanks of the same grapes destined for unwooded Constantia Uitsig Chardonnay, different fermentation temperatures in particular and yeasts, offer startling contrasts of flavour. Both picked on March 7, a warmer fermentation (17 - 18°C) offers baked Golden Delicious apple characters, while grapes fermented cooler (11 - 12°C) show pear and nutty flavours. 'The warmer tank is too tutti-frutti on its own, but the blend of the two is good,' explains Loubser. 'We harvested our first block of Shiraz today [March 22], and have some Merlot in. Quality is very good with berries small but not overly ripe as it's a cooler vintage. We're one–third through the reds, with still Merlot, Nebbiolo and Cabernet still to go. We'll probably be finished in two and a half weeks time.'

Darling Cellars' Abé Beukes had the last trucks coming in on March 23 of his total estimated 7000 tons. If weather permits rot, he might still bring in Chenin Blanc NLH. 'We started with Sauvignon, then Chenin, at expected times. Pinotage was very early in 2006, and quality slightly better than 2005. The vintage overall was 10 days later than 2005,' he says. His Chenin tonnage increased 15% with bigger quantities responsible for lower average quality, but Sauvignon quality is above average, and Shiraz is similar to 2005. 'With Merlot there's a big variance in berry size amongst vineyards so mixed results, and Shiraz could be OK with selective picking. It's been a strange year - some farmers picked Shiraz twice because green and ripe berries were in the same vineyard. So 2006 is definitely not an outstanding vintage, but not a bad one either.'

Groote Post's Lukas Wentzel says his Darling harvest is nearly finished. The last Merlot is coming off this week, while the last Cabernet Sauvignon and south-facing Cab Franc blocks (planted at 320m) should come off on March 30. 'It's been a good harvest. Initially I was worried about having less stand-out Sauvignon tanks, but the average quality is better so I'm happy. Chardonnays are looking nicely concentrated, and Pinot Noir (at 420m) is probably the best vintage yet – a cooler December/January period and better vineyard management likely contributed,' he says.

Nadia Cilliers is in her second harvest at Groot Constantia: 'We're exactly halfway in terms of hectares – with 40 of 80ha in. Our Sauvignon and Pinotage are in, and we're harvesting Chardonnay today [22 March]. We started with Merlot and Shiraz. It's very late this year - and our sugars are a bit stagnant at the moment. Our Merlots are sitting at 23.6, our Shiraz at 24.4 balling, so we'd like them a bit higher. There isn't any rain forecast for the immediate future, but we're worried about getting some – this is Constantia afterall.....'

Lolly Louwrens reports that Robertson Winery received their last 35 tons of Petit Verdot grapes on March 22. 'Our crop is 5% higher than 2005 – mostly due to new plantings coming into bearing. It was a quick season, with 85% coming in over about five weeks, between 850 – 1000 tons per day. We also had a slow week before and after. We've been fortunate with no rain during the season. I haven't seen grapes this good since 82! Reds and whites are exceptional. Sugar, acidity, pH balance..… I'm no prophet but I think 2006 can go down as a good vintage.'

Dudley Wilson at Stellar Winery in Vredendal is loading a tanker with bulk wine when I call – the bulk quantities that pay Stellar's marketing bills. 'We've been busy since December with table grapes, and started with Chardonnay in mid-January. We've done close to 8000 tons already – but a lot of that is bulk wine. Our Organic bottled wine will probably be 2000 to 2500 tons – our Stellar label and some organic export private labels. We were the first organic cellar to be Fair Trade accredited in the world in 2004, so our guys have seen money back in their pockets. The combined Fair Trade/organic status has opened doors overseas.'

Wilson has 1000 – 2000 tons of organic and conventional grapes to harvest still. On March 22 they took in Colombard for dry white, Muscat d' Frontignan for Stellar straw wine, plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 'Vredendal 2006 is a good year for whites particularly. Chardonnay quantities are probably a little down, but other whites not much. Pinotage was definitely down too. With Shiraz we've had problems with thin skins and lack of tannins. They never really picked up a lot of voomah,' he reports. And plagued with how to process 10,000 tons in a 2000-ton cellar, Wilson had an innovative idea. He customised an order for 100,000 litre bags, filled them with Colombard and Rosè, and put them in a cool table grape room to ferment.

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