A late ripening period with a bit of flooding thrown in for good measure has led to hard and long hours for the wineries of uniWines Vineyards as the 2014 harvest season gets into full-swing. A long and cold – not to mention wet – winter put the vines into a deep state of winter dormancy and there was not talk of spring as the Breedekloof mountains.
uniWines Vineyards, based in the Breedekloof’s Rawsonville region, vinifies over 44 000 tons of grapes from some 2500ha of vines owned by its shareholders. Main varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with Colombard, Pinot Grigio, Nouvelle and Muscat d’Alexandrie also harvested. Besides its own brands such as the Fairtrade-certified Palesa and the Meander and Ankerman wines, uniWines Vineyards services various national and international customers.
“We were a bit unsure going into this year’s harvest as the winter conditions hung around our region for a long time,” says uniWines Vineyards’ Group Cellarmaster Nicolaas Rust. “When spring eventually arrived the few sunny days were followed by torrential downpours, flooding our head-office! Fortunately the vineyards were not troubled by the rain. Most of our soils drain easily and when the spring rains came there were no developed berries which could rot.”
With the inclement weather out of the way, ripening conditions were excellent. “In the vineyards the grapes were ripening evenly, albeit a bit late. The quality of the grapes and the juice, as well as the young wines, has really been astounding. The flavours of the
grapes currently being harvested, especially Sauvignon Blanc, are some of the best examples I have seen in our region with clean freshness being complemented by tropical complexity. We are giving our Sauvignon a bit more hang-time to bring out a tropical flavour whilst keeping structure firm and refreshment to the maximum.”
With its three wineries currently harvesting up to a combined total of 1200 tons a day, uniWines Vineyards picked Sauvignon Blanc until the end of February. The Chenin Blanc harvest began mid-February and will continue through to mid-March. On the red side the Pinotage harvest gets underway end-February, with Merlot and Shiraz following.
“With Cabernet Sauvignon being the last variety to hit the cellars and the general delayed harvest, expect a lot less winemakers on the coast for Easter week-end this year!” says Nicolaas.
Nicholas Bruyns, uniWines Vineyards’ Viticulturist, says the cool weather the Breedekloof Valley experienced during October and November could potentially have led to a high level of uneven ripening, but this had not been the case. “Fruit development has been even, and although we are not predicting a bumper crop in terms of volume, the grapes coming in at the moment are showing balanced sugars and acids, as well as healthy pH levels,” he says.
“Together with myself and Nicolaas the farmers have been having to do micro-management on a frequent basis, especially in irrigation. This is a most crucial period for irrigating as balance is required between refreshing the vines at the right times whilst avoiding the danger of diluting the sugars.
“But as a newcomer to the Breedekloof – this being my first harverst at uniWines Vineyards – I am impressed by the standard of farming,” says Nicholas. “This probably has to do with the fact that many of them are 2nd and 3rd generation farmers, but they really are progressive and thorough wine grape farmers committed to giving the wine-making teams the best possible quality fruit to work with.”
Nicolaas says success in any harvest lies in teamwork, planning and logistics. “I think this is what allows uniWines Vineyards to produce high volumes of quality wine,” says Nicolaas.
“Planning for each tank of wine begins with the farmer in his vineyard during pruning season. From then Nicholas and the farmer work together to ensure the wine-making team gets the fruit in the condition and to the rigorous quality standards we expect.”
As one of South Africa’s premier producers of Fairtrade-certified wine, Fairtrade vineyards’ fruit is handled separately.
“The grapes from our Fairtrade vineyards are vinified in accordance to accepted Fairtrade principals which mainly entails input from Fairtrade beneficiaries,” says Nicolaas.
“This team-approach, from vineyard management to winemaking and the vast amount of logistics is essential to not only producing quality wines, but also ensuring the product is competently managed in the supply-chain to ensure a top product from uniWines in Rawsonville – no matter where in the world the wine is eventually enjoyed.”