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Harvest report: 12 February to 23 February

We went from fever pitch to in the doldrums in just one week. While waiting for the Chenin Blancs to ripen we took a short break to catch our breath, get the new Chardonnays into barrel and focus on the Pinotages in the red fermenters.

Due to the exceptionally dry conditions our aim was to harvest more Chenin at lower levels of ripeness when there is more acidity and freshness. We are pleased to confirm that the Chenins harvested earlier have shown great fruit, which bodes well for the grapes still on the vines. The Simonsig Chenin style is based on full ripeness when the berries start to turn into a russety, tan colour with some raisined berries developing due to transpiration. This results in the ripe, dried fruit and honey flavours that adds fatness and viscosity to the mouthfeel. In a dry vintage like 2018 more Chenin was harvested at just over 20° Balling for higher acidity and more freshness, as well as lower resultant alcohol.

Simonsig Estate is celebrating its 50th  anniversary this year. Exactly fifty years ago, my father Frans Malan took the giant leap to bottle the first Simonsig wine, Simonsig Steen. It was about the same time when Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind on the moon! Frans Malan put his Simonsig Steen on the market for an exorbitant price of R6.00! For a case of 12 that is. It is half a century later and Chenin Blanc (called Steen in the 60’s) is still our most popular wine. Thankfully perceptions have changed since then and Chenin Blanc is now seen as a show horse rather than the work horse of the South African wine industry. Keep in mind that there were no Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or even Merlot plantings in those days, so Chenin was our go to varietal. When Frans made the first wooded white wine in South Africa in 1978, Simonsig Fumé Blanc, he used Chenin Blanc.

The best Chardonnay blocks were also harvested during week 5 and displayed healthy fruit with intense ripe flavours. Chardonnay, unlike Sauvignon Blanc, can thrive in warmer conditions and make beautiful, luscious wines. The yield for Chardonnay was similar to last year for most vineyards, while a few were down by as much as 22%.

Pinotage kept the team busy during the past fortnight with manual punch downs and pump overs to extract colour, fruit and tannins. One of the new techniques introduced over the past few years has been adding up to 20% of whole bunches to the fermentation stage, that has added a lot of dimension to the Pinotage’s depth and complexity. You’re never to old to learn new tricks!

Sauvignon Blanc from the cooler sites also came in from Darling and Walker Bay respectively. The Darling fruit was picked much earlier than previous years in order to get more green herbaceous flavours of figs and gooseberries. These characters, called pyrazines, are heat sensitive and will disappear quickly in a warm vintage like 2018. The coolest site for Sauvignon Blanc in the country is Elim, which will be the last area to be harvested at the end of February.

Week 6 ended with a thimble full of Marsanne from Stellenbosch. This is part of the ongoing experimentation with white Rhone varieties which may become very important to us if global warming continues to affect us in the future. So far it has given very exciting results.

Joha Malan  Cellar Master