South African winemakers enthusing about quality of 2017 vintage, despite lower volumes

South African winemakers enthusing about quality of 2017 vintage, despite lower volumes

South African winemakers are looking forward to a high quality vintage, despite the volume of this year’s crop being below average

An extremely dry growing season held back the size of the crop, but vintners are particularly enthusiastic about the quality of the grapes.

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

“2017 was a very nice vintage all around,” Chris Alheit told Wine Spectator. His eponymous winery produces white wines from parcels situated around the Cape. He said that the 2017 vintage was at least as good as that of 2015, though pointed out that while the 2015’s were quite powerful, he described this year’s vintage as “finer”.

With a very dry season from the outset, and with little moisture in the ground, temperatures were average during the days, but cooler at nights, and a healthy fruit set and full canopies enabled winemakers to most effectively manage their vineyards.

Restaurant at the Rust en Vrede winery

With no major heatwaves to contend with, average daytime temperatures were in line with long term averages, though November and December saw virtually no rain, resulting in a particularly nailbiting time of it for grape growers. Coenie Synmna, winemaker at Rust en Vrede estate in Stellenbosch reported that he had to start irrigation in December before veraison, which has only happened once before, in 2015. “It was unique to see phenolic ripeness at lower sugar levels.”

As the drought continued, those working in dry farmed vineyards reported some stress on younger vines, which have shallower roots and therefore struggle to find water in dry periods. However, this did not stop the ripening in the Cape’s vineyards, with most spots continuing to accumulate both phenolics and sugars.

“The young vines took a lot of strain in spite of the mild temperatures,” said Adi Badenhorst of A.A. Badenhorst Family in the Swartland. “The old vines were fabulous this year. The crops were decent and the fruit very healthy and flavourful.”

And the dry conditions helped the vineyards to stay healthy, with barely any pests, disease or incidence of rot

But heavy rain in late January across the Cape, except for the Swartland, gave the vines a much needed boost in the run up to the harvest.

While the consensus amongst winemakers is that the 2017 vintage is showing ripeness and concentration, the wines have slightly lower acidity.

“Plenty of challenges, but I think we had a cracking vintage,” said Duncan Savage of Savage Wines. “Whites are lively and fresh, with the reds showing brightness and fruit purity. An all around classy affair.”


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