The 2019 harvest season ended in mid April, almost three months after picking commenced,and with volumes up 60 tonnes onlast year, it is described as an “an ultra-marathon” by head of production Johan Malan and cellarmaster Debbie Thompson.
One of the major influences on harvest 2019 was the preceding winter that saw 70% more rainfall than the previous year (regarded as one ofthe driest in the history of the Cape winelands). An unexpected warm spell in June 2018 saw temperatures rising to above 30°C, pushing the vineyards to uneven budding and patchy ripening as the berries gained sugar and colour. This resulted in certain varieties being picked in stages, while other grape cultivars ripened simultaneously, placing considerable pressure on the harvest and cellar-teams.
With spring and early summer being cooler than usual, the early ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Kaapse Vonkel Cap Classique sparkling wine and Sauvignon blanc, had excellent acidity, with the quality of these wines currently in tank showing great promise.
The uneven ripening posed a real challenge for the harvest teams, with some of the Pinot Noir blocks having to be picked in three stages. Adding to this was the early, almost premature ripening of certain varieties compared to previous vintages.
Consequently, the first few weeks of picking was intense as the teams surged to stay ahead of the ripening cycle. There were just a few days to simultaneously get Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage rosé grapes into the winery, causing considerable logistical challenges to the cellar team, as well as our infrastructure. But with more than 50 harvests under the belt, we had fortunately seen this before!
Chenin Blanc is a very important variety for the estate and the first vineyards are picked earlier at lower ripeness levels to capture the crisp freshness and retain the natural acidity, giving some delicious mineral flavours to the final wines. This year it was less common to see Chenins reaching the upper-level of ripeness at 25/26° Balling where some raisined berries are found, as sugar levels did not increase despite us letting the bunches hang longer.
March cooled down significantly with maximum and minimum temperatures below the long-term average. This is always beneficial to later ripening cultivars, the longer hang-time allowing the tannins to ripen and mature while the sugar levels rise slowly.
The red varieties saw maturity and phenolic ripeness – indicated by brown pips and soft skins – at lower sugar levels. This bodes well for lower alcohol levels in our red wines, something the consumer is definitely looking for. The tempered sugar levels among the red varieties led us to adapt our winemaking techniquesto accommodate the grapes’fruit profile and structures. This included allowing less time on the skins to prevent over-extraction of tannins.
At this stage the 2019 reds can be compared to the 2014 vintage which offered wines of elegance in a fruit-driven style.
Towards the latter part of the harvest showers fell over the winelands, slowing ripening even more. But the beautiful warm balmy days that followed allowed the last blocks to reach optimum maturity.Towards the end of the 2019 harvest low levels of acidity were experienced in the reds with high malic acid content.
While it was a vintage with cooler conditions and also a few rain showers, our hope to get some good Botrytis on the Sauvignon and Semillon did not realise as expected. On 15 April we picked the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for the Vin de LizaNoble Late Harvest with some noble rot berries and a lot of sun-dried raisins.
A big thank you to the whole Simonsig team for all the hard work in the vineyard and the cellar, to ensure we continue to produce premium quality wines that express the diversity of the Stellenbosch terroir we are situated in.
We look forward to sharing this vintage with you!