The feature of Boschendal Harvest 2009 was the realisation ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ once again! ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ that the wine industry cannot risk accurate predictions on any harvest. Not on grape quality, nor grape volume. However, the excellent results the early grape analyses was showing this year, gave us an indication that something special was on its way.
Leading-up to the harvest, predictions were eagerly communicated throughout the wine industry as there was a lot to be excited about. The vineyards were literally blooming with health and vigour, mainly as a result of the cold, wet winters experienced in 2007 and 2008. The low winter temperatures experienced all over the Western Cape, including Boschendal’s major vineyard regions ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Boschendal, Faure, Bottelary and the Helderberg ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ had given the vines the opportunity of clamming shut to get a long, deserved winter rest.
The rain came down in buckets throughout the winter as cold front after cold front lashed the Western Cape, driven by stormy winds from the north-west. This resulted in high water tables ensuring that the vineyards took in ample reserve water, keeping the soils cool and moist for metres below the roots.
Rain and low temperatures continued throughout the spring month of September. The rain dissipated eventually, leading to a dry October, and just when we saw summer before us, torrential rain came bucketing down in the 2nd week of November. This storm-rain had a high nitrogen content, which ensures the soils got a double whammy: more water, and a natural nitrogen growth-booster.
This means that when the sun came out in late November and December, the vines grew vigorously with numerous secondary shoots developing in the process. These secondary shoots, which appeared in abnormal abundance, contributed towards excellent grape analyses. Stephan Joubert, Boschendal’s viticulturalist, says that he had never seen so many secondary shoots in any season.
Though the vines had benefitted from the long winter and temperate spring, they really took off in December. This meant a lot of long hours in the suckering department, with the all important canopy management procedures also requiring 24-hour attention and round-the-clock work.
Despite the late rains, the vineyards went through flowering, budding, berry-set and veraison without hardly a hint of diseases, with Stephan commenting that he hardly saw a diseased leaf before or during the harvest season.
What was apparent, was that early-ripening varieties were running two weeks late in terms of achieving optimum and phenolic ripeness due to the late summer. Later varieties were ripening on schedule, an in certain instances were also slightly earlier.
In anticipation of the harvest, green harvesting was extensive due to the uneven ripening in some vineyards.
Sauvignon Blanc, Boschendal’s signature white variety, promises to produce wine of excellent quality this year. The variety benefitted from the slow ripening period, and grapes from the Boschendal farm’s famous elevated vineyards and the maritime-influenced regions of Somerset-West and Faure produced fruit of extreme concentration. “Tasting some bunches before harvest was like biting into a fig,” says Stephan.
The grapes were harvested at sugar levels of between 22?+¦?????+¦???-¬ and 24?+¦?????+¦???-¬ Balling from vineyards yielding around seven tons per hectare.
Lizelle Gerber, Boschendal’s white wine winemaker, immediately noticed the tropical character in the fruit. “Throughout the Sauvignon Blanc harvest, which ran from the end of January to the beginning of March, the grapes showed great tropical character during and after fermentation,” she says. “This is exactly what I wanted, as this character is conducive to the style of Sauvignon Blanc we aim to make at Boschendal, tropical complexity with a full mouth-feel.”
Chardonnay quality is also “brilliant”. Harvesting was throughout February at sugars of 24?+¦?????+¦???-¬ Balling, with Faure and Boschendal farm responsible for the majority of the grapes. As the case with Sauvignon Blanc, grape bunches were smaller, tightly packed with flavour.
“Classic,” says Lizelle Gerber. “Minerality for length and good fruit on the nose and palate.”
With all indications of a spectacular white wine harvest apparent, the elements decided to throw a curve-ball in the direction of or the red vineyards. The heat-waves poured over the Cape in March, with average monthly temperatures some 3?+¦?????+¦???-¬ higher than average. Even Boschendal’s cooler blocks of Shiraz situated on the doorstep of the Atlantic Ocean at Faure were not given respite from the searing heat.
Water was not a problem. But what did lead to a bit of stress amongst the winemaking teams, was that everything seemed to ripen at the same time. “It was as if the grapes were saying ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+ëpick me before it gets any hotter'” says Thinus Kruger, Boschendal’s red wine winemaker.”
Shiraz, Boschendal’s signature variety on the red side, was picked between 25?+¦?????+¦???-¬ and 25,5?+¦?????+¦???-¬ Balling, with the average yield per hectare being eight tons.
High temperatures were a problem as the heat-wave continued, with picking schedules having to be planned to perfection throughout the extensive area to avoid the shrivelling of grapes that can occur during periods of extreme heat.
Thinus says the planning worked, as the wines are looking classical and structured. “This is a year that has given me the building-blocks for making wine to the specific Boschendal Shiraz style. This is more restrained fruit and more elegance, instead of powerful fruit-bombs.”
Cabernet Sauvignon, which is harvested right up to mid April, is also more subdued in fruit expression, and should play a perfect partnership role when blended to Boschendal shiraz.
What is another feature, on both red and white grapes, is that volume is down 7% as a result of smaller, lighter bunches. But what is lost in quantity will be made up for in quality.
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