A Snapshot of Wine Grape Harvest 2024

Wine Grape Harvest is an exciting time in the winelands.  A typical day usually features an early start, earlier than the crack of dawn, and long hours of hard work between the vineyards and the cellar.  This is coupled with high stress levels coordinating teams of labourers and making important decisions on when to pick and how to process the grapes.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve had numerous questions regarding the state of the South African harvest of 2024.  This month, we thought we would bring you an update directly from three of our winemakers, based in Stellenbosch, Elgin and Sondagskloof (a small part of the Cape South Coast near Hemel en Aarde/Walker Bay).  After hearing their updates, we are particularly excited about the 2024 vintage and have no doubt you will be too!

 

Nic van Aarde of Oldenburg Vineyards (Stellenbosch)

The harvest of 2024 was the “earliest harvest [Nic] has ever experienced”.  According to Nic, most of the industry found this to be the case.  This is likely a result of the wet winter followed by a very warm summer with little rain.  The combination of the “wettest winter in 60 years and the hot dry summer accelerated the ripening of the grapes” resulting in the need for early picking to retain balance.  To put this into perspective, the Oldenburg team started picking their grapes in the second week of January when they normally start around early February – making the harvest in its entirety about 3 weeks earlier than expected.

It is natural for winemakers to have concerns throughout the growing season, particularly when it comes to weather conditions.  Numerous heat waves in January had Nic slightly concerned about the grapes retaining their acidity levels, however he has been very impressed with resultant acid levels post-harvest.  Loss of yields seems to be a largely reported issue in most regions of the Cape this year, particularly Stellenbosch and Swartland.  Oldenburg is about 40% down on volume because of the very windy conditions that swept through the area during flowering season resulting in fewer berries forming.

 

Oldenburg had very “gusty winds” which resulted in them losing grapes in their vineyards, particularly those situated at the top of their iconic ‘Rondekop’.  Nic explains that these strong gusts swept through the vineyards, shredding leaves, and exposing the bunches to the sun.  Subsequently, the grapes got sunburnt and began to shrivel.  “2024 is a year for sorting. [Nic] has roughly 18 people on their sorting table” who are all there to ensure none of the raisin-like grapes make it into the winery as this would negatively impact the quality of the final wine.

 

Overall, Nic raves about the “amazing concentration of the 2024 harvest”.  Their Cabernet Sauvignon is looking particularly good and “despite the heat in January 2024, it will be an amazing vintage for Oldenburg Chardonnay” as the juice is showing great acidity and undergoing steady fermentations.

 

Wilhelm Pienaar of Hermanuspietersfontein (Sondagskloof)

(Vineyards are based in Sondagskloof but the cellar is based in Walker Bay near Hermanus)

 

Because Sondagskloof is “such a marginalised growing area with lot of rain, wind and cold compared to the rest of South Africa [the team] are used to challenging weather conditions”.  This year is winemaker Wilhem’s 10th full vintage at Hermanuspietersfontein and out of the 10 years that he has been there “two out of the last nine vintages have been dry and warm, the rest are all fairly wet”.  The great news – 2024 proves to be the third year in Wilhem’s tenure at Hermanuspietersfontein that they have been fortunate to have dry and warm conditions.  His excitement about the current conditions of the vintages is clear in his voice, while he explains that he’s incredibly pleased that it has been such a good vintage!

Wilhelm elaborated that there seems to be a general trend that Sondagskloof often has ‘inverted’ vintages compared to the rest of the Cape; whereby if it has been a good vintage in Sondagskloof it has often been called a difficult vintage in other parts of the Cape and vice versa.  Unlike most of the accounts we’ve had from our winemakers in other parts of the Cape winelands on their harvest, Hermanuspietersfontein’s yields are up about 15%-20% on average for the 2024 harvest.

 

According to Wilhelm, the grapes “have ripened perfectly and have had very little disease pressure” throughout the growing season.  He continues to express that the “coloration of red wines looks good, and the flavours of both red and white wines is really good”.

 

All in all, he is “very chuffed and predicts the final quality of the 2024 vintage to be fantastic”.

 

Bobby Wallace of Paul Wallace Wines and Off the Record Wines (Elgin)

According to Bobby, Elgin, unlike many of the other regions did not start their harvest early. Harvest began at the expected time for most of the farmers in the area however it did prove to be compact in duration.  From start to finish fruit was brought into the cellar in a total of 28 days – we can imagine this would not have done wonders for the harvest stress level!

The vintage was “probably the driest to date” which was likely the cause of this compacted harvest, which although it started on time, it saw the late ripening varietals brought into the cellar much earlier than usual.

 

Their crop levels were down by 15%-20% which is comparatively lower than farms in neighbouring regions like Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Hemel-en-Aarde who have recorded higher losses on yields this year.  Bobby explains that this drop in yields is likely a result of a combination of factors such as “windy flowering conditions, a very dry ripening season and notably the extremely wet autumn last year, after the 2023 harvest.  This is a crucial time where vines build up reserves of nutrients for upcoming seasons”, given the very wet conditions in Autumn, ideal build-up of reserves in the vines may have been compromised.

 

Despite some of the challenges in the growing season, Bobby is pleased to report that the wines are looking extremely promising, and he is happy with the quality – “they have slightly higher pH’s than usual and marginally lower acidities as a result of the warmer year but there is now more concentration in fruit”.

 

This blog was edited and posted by Digital Squeak.