Simonsig Sees Lighter Grape Yield, but Superb Quality in the Early Days of 2017 Harvest
Two dry growing seasons in a row, and it is no surprise that grape yields in the Simonsig vineyards are lighter this year. “The bunches are there, it is just that they appear to have been on a Banting diet or something, as they are considerably lighter,” says Johan Malan, cellarmaster of this pioneering Stellenbosch wine estate.
Harvesting commenced in the second week of January with hand-picking the Pinot noir used in Simonsig’s Kaapse Vonkel Cap Classique, the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine made in South Africa which launched the Cap Classique category in 1971.
“I am predicting another dry harvest season, as our friend El Niño shows no sign of abating,” says Malan. “This is why I picked the Pinot noir relatively early, between 18 and 19 °Balling, to ensure I have some wines with sufficient acidity in the cellar. Warm conditions cause acids to drop, so I want to have base wines with good structure in store so that I don’t have to acidify once conditions heat up.”
According to Malan, the quality of the Cap Classique base wines is spectacular, despite the heat and drought of the growing season to date. “I don’t believe we have ever had base wines with such low pH levels in the cellar, and now I am talking about pH levels below three. This is terrific news as it is pH that gives your wine structure and the ability to mature on the yeast for a long time. So now that we are bringing in Chardonnay for the Cap Classique base wines, it is going to be very interesting to see how this variety marries with the Pinot noir in our Cap Classique blend.”
The lower yields is the vine’s way of protecting itself in a dry year and allows the vine to ripen the grapes without stressing.
Harvest activities were interrupted when temperatures dropped and a welcome splash of rain fell on 27 January.
“It just freshened things up, slowing down the ripening and rejuvenating the vines which had been growing very quickly ever since bud-break last spring,” says Malan. “The next eight to ten weeks are of critical importance in the ripening stage, and despite the few millimetres of rain we are using a neutron probe to measure the soil’s moisture content in each vineyard, and applying drip-irrigation accordingly. Keeping moisture stress at bay allows the vines to ripen the harvest under optimal conditions. We say balanced vines make balanced wines!
“Water is an issue, for us and right through the Western Cape winelands. On Simonsig we have eight irrigation dams, of which five did not even fill to above 50% during winter. But with our moisture measuring technology and carefully managed irrigation we are in a fortunate position to nurse the vines to ripen a high quality crop,” he says.