Riaan Goes Great Guns During Harvest


Riaan Smit writes about his harvest at South Africa’s First Growth estate – and prepares for the next one.

,The last Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were crushed at Kanonkop just before Easter. Harvest 2010 is over at South Africa’s “First Growth” estate.

,I felt the same melancholy, the same sadness, I experienced at Chateau La Gordonne in Provence last September after vendanges 2009. Better get used to being reminded of my mortality at the end of harvest.

,Wine makers only have an allotted number of vintages in a life. I started my journey to become a wine maker in my mid-forties and have “lost” many vintages. But the joy of wine is so much that I count my self incredibly privileged to have maybe two decades of vintages left.

,I may be off to the Southern Rhone or Burgundy in September and that will make it three harvests in 13 months.

,Harvests are supposed to be hectic, but what sticks in my mind about the Kanonkop harvest is the opposite of hectic. The place retained its classy serenity throughout. Crush 2010 was wine maker Abrie Beeslaar’s eight solo vintage at the estate and the atmosphere was largely because he very clearly knows his stuff inside out.

,Serenity, that is, with the exception of the bantering of the team of guys who punch down the caps of skins in the 16 open cement fermenters every two hours, 24 hours a day. They build muscle, sleep, and watch videos.

,I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the harvest team. The cellar guys worked long, relentless hours and I have huge respect for them ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Oom Frikkie (whose father and grandfather worked at Kanonkop), Oom Gerald, Jeremy, AD, Terence, Christopher, and Quinton.

,Jeremy, Kanonkop’s lab technician, also started studying wine making at Elsenburg this year.

,Although I spend a fair number of late evenings on the crush pad, I had to attend classes and write tests at Elsenburg throughout the harvest. I could not nearly match the hours these guys put in.

,A typical day started at 07h00 in Abrie’s office with skriflesing en gebed and a discussion of the day ahead. Then the crush equipment, conveyors, pipes, and pumps were set up and soaped down again. (Everything had been cleaned and soaped down the night before after the day’s crush.)

,The 20-odd woman who sorted the grapes on three vibrating tables arrived at 08h30 – and the first grapes shortly afterwards. About 40 tons of grapes were crushed per day. All 40 of these tons passed over the sorting tables and the process often went on until 20h00 and later.

,The Pinotage yield at Kanonkop was down by more than half. A Black South Easter in October last year, during the crucial flowering stage, blew away more than half the normal crop.

,But a recent tank tasting of 10 Pinotages revealed some promising wine. It was a blind tasting for me – I could not connect block numbers on the samples to the age of the vines in the various blocks ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and the wine from the 1953 block stood out prominently. This and some other Pinotage are undergoing malolactic fermentation in new French oak barrels.

,The 1953 block is sold as a premium Black Label Pinotage. The first release this year of only 1000 bottles of the 2007 Black Label, at R1 000 per bottle, is sold out. I tasted this wine again three weeks ago and it is a great wine that will hold its own against the best from anywhere.

,Kanonkop Pinotage 2008 was released about two weeks ago and has beautiful freshness with typical Pinotage cherry flavours and a hint of banana.

,At the start of harvest in early February, about 40 000 liters of Pinotage Rose ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a first for Kanonkop – was made. It brought back very happy memories of my harvest at Chateau La Gordonne, in Cotes du Provence ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the heart of Rose making in France.

,The Kanonkop Rose, fermented dry, has a refreshing minerality and may show good fruit once it has settled in the tanks.

,This Rose will be bottled under a Kanonkop label if it passes the palate test by proprietors Johann and Paul Krige and wine maker Abrie.

,Abrie described the vintage as “difficult” because of patches of uneven ripeness in the grapes, but also expressed satisfaction with “what we have in our tanks”.

,He reckons the 2010 Kanonkop wines will most likely not have big tannic structures and this will allow the expression of fruit in the wine to be more upfront.

,So, it is a mere five months until my next harvest – the smell of fermenting grapes and freshly hydrated yeast and the clanking of pipe ends and humming pumps. Can I ever get tired of it? I don’t think so.

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