A vintage of great promise but with a sting in the tail!
There is only one consistent in farming: inconsistency! Vintage 2023 lived up to this maxim in the most emphatic of ways.
The growing season kicked off in the winter of 2022 with warmer than normal conditions and lower than expected rainfall. This would prove to be an omen of what was to come! Spring was also unusually warm, and predictions were that the season was going to be at least a week or two early.
Periodic rainfall during the budding and flowering periods of September and October resulted in excellent canopy development and the season was shaping up to be a very good one indeed. Slightly lower rainfall in November and December exerted less disease pressure on the vines, and a few welcome showers timeously tempered warm December temperatures, rejuvenating the vines to continue to ripen its grapes.
January was dry. Perfect conditions for the colouring (known by the French term – veraison) and ripening of the grape bunches on the farm. The yields looked lighter than the previous season which was compensated for by what was promising to be a vintage of excellent quality. And so it was for the first half of the harvest, kicking off with picking truly perfect Chardonnay grapes on the 22nd of February (albeit two weeks earlier that Harvest 2022).
Sauvignon Blanc was next to be picked, and then the Cape was hit by wave after wave of cold fronts pushing up from the deep Antarctic. A deluge of rain fell over the farm. In the space of two short weeks (the last week of February and the first week of March) we were to receive over one third of our annual average rainfall – a whopping 302mm! And the entire red grape crop was still out there ripening.
What to do? Decisions, decisions, decisions!
My heart went out to viticulturists and winemakers with just a few vintage experiences under their belts. It was difficult and nerve-wracking enough to make the right calls with my experience of 32 harvests. But calls had to be made, and bravely made.
The grapes demonstrated much resilience during this difficult time, and it was fantastically heartening to see how our organically grown vineyards handled these impossible conditions best of all. Our resolve to convert the entire farm to organic methods was mightily strengthened.
On reflection, Harvest 2023 was the most challenging harvest of my career now spanning 33 years. The white wines are simply breath-takingly beautiful. The Pinot noir and the components of our Serenity blend all possess a charm and impressive delicacy that will undoubtably seduce and captivate palates across the board. Now the wait continues as the wines quietly mature over the coming winter.
Warm Ataraxia greetings from a chilly and wet Hemel-en-Aarde.