Looking at the 2023 Vintage

Harvest is always an exciting time in the winelands.  Naturally, stress levels are high, but it is incredibly rewarding to watch as the results of many months of labour come to fruition.  We took the time to check-in with some of our producers to bring you an update on the 2023 vintage.

 

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

It looks set to be an incredibly exciting vintage, one that Bobby describes as an extremely unique year in the South African context.  “Winter of 2022, which determines the 2023 harvest, was one of the warmest and driest vintages that the Cape has had in a long time.  A lot of the areas didn’t receive the winter rainfall needed to buffer their soils and fill up their dams”.  Luckily in Elgin, although there was a drop of about one third in their rainfall, there was still enough to ensure healthy crop levels.

 

The cool climate regions of Elgin and Ceres, where Bobby grows grapes for Paul Wallace Wines and Off the Record Wines, had an ideal growing season with “probably the best conditions seen for flowering” thanks to the potentially havoc wrecking Northeastern and Southeastern winds keeping at bay until the flowering process was complete.  The slightly wetter and cooler temperatures of Elgin and Ceres ensured even budding and a predictable ripening period going up into harvest allowing for outstanding quality grapes to be produced.  The “early cultivar grapes looked spectacular, and I am extremely excited for how our wines are going to turn out, those early cultivars like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Francs are already pressed off, in barrel and looking superb at the moment” explains Wallace.

 

Late rain during harvest caused a bit of disruption.  Over 200mm fell during March, which is rare.  It is more than the region generally receives in August, its wettest month.  However, all of this was taken in Bobby’s stride; careful picking decisions, and hard work within narrow harvesting windows meant the Paul Wallace and Off the Record team was able to finish their 2023 harvest strong.  Bobby sees the potential of 2023 wines showing similarities to the 2021 vintage – think structured elegance and concentrated expression of fruit!

 

Charles Williams of De Toren Vineyards (Stellenbosch)

Ripening season in Stellenbosch got off to a good start in June.  There was 180mm of rain which is the highest level since 2009.  The team at De Toren thought they were going to be in for quite a wet winter- which turned out not to be the case- it was in fact quite the opposite!  Between July and the end of November, it was one of the driest spring times ever recorded.  On one hand this meant that disease pressure was very low, which is always welcomed, but naturally very dry conditions come with their own issues of vine stress.  An incredibly welcomed dose of December rain completely saturated the soils; allowing the vines to grow an extra 30 cm of new young leaves to fill the canopy, perfectly balancing out the vegetative growth and the reproductive growth.  January presented another warm and dry month with some well-timed rain in mid-February allowing the grapes to rehydrate slightly and slow sugar ripening.

 

It all seemed to be going well until March threw a few curve balls at the De Toren team with Charles describing it as the trickiest March he had ever seen at De Toren Vineyards.  “From the 4th of March until the 11th of March it rained for 6 out of 8 days and the other 2 days were very overcast.  On paper this is absolutely horrible weather – probably the worst weather that we have had excluding 2013 and 2014”… Yikes!

 

De Toren uses organic practices in their vineyards which is likely correlated to why the vines were able to manage these incredibly tricky conditions and still manage to produce balanced and healthy grapes in every aspect!  With huge effort put into a very technical harvest and large emphasis placed on picking dates the result was fantastic.  Certainly, much better than most would expect given such tricky conditions in the vineyard.  The grapes coming into the cellar were of perfect quality – nothing short of what we have all come to love about De Toren wines.

 

Charles expects that 2023 is going to showcase fantastic black fruit along with vibrant flavour and acidity.  “The balances in the wines are looking fantastic.  Vibrancy, elegance, and vitality of the vineyard will hopefully be translated into the finished product”.

De Toren, Délicate NV

 

Angus Paul, Angus Paul Wines (Stellenbosch)

“A scarily dry winter with pathetic rainfall” is how Angus Paul characterises the winter of 2022…

 

Luckily they were “rescued in December with a deluge of about 75 – 200 mm depending where you are” in Stellenbosch.  However, as a result of this influx of rain “the vines were in a bit of a panic state so they started ripening the grapes a bit faster than expected which caught a few people (in the area) off guard”.  There was a bit of disease pressure, particularly from powdery mildew, as a result of the wet December period and the odd humid day in January which affected some of chenin and chardonnay vineyards in the region.  Otherwise it was considered “smooth sailing with disease pressure” in the vintage.

 

Given the wet December, some blocks ripened slightly earlier.  By late January the vines began to settle down from the rain and ripening was then more controlled which complimented the optimal weather that January presented.  There were no notably hot days, and some welcome cool nights.  This luck continued until late February when the weather turned again.  February ended, and so too did the dry weather!

 

Rain was coming down with an “irritating persistence” explains Angus.  Luckily his earlier ripening varieties meant he was largely unaffected by these weather issues that would have brought with it many challenges including disease pressure and dilution of the grapes!

 

“This will be a harvest chenin producers will be quite vocal about: on paper, in terms of acidity and pH the wines look very good.  They are very seductive wines because of the freshness and it seems like it will be a tight white vintage – 2014 or 2019 come to mind.  The reds are very charming with lots of pretty aromatics”.

 

It sounds like, despite this challenging year, we will definitely be in for a treat!

 

DP Burger of GlenWood Vineyards (Franschhoek)

The 2023 ripening period started off with good conditions.  February was earmarked with very warm days which accelerated the ripening speed of the grapes resulting in an earlier harvest.  The 2023 vintage at GlenWood kicked off 10 days earlier than in 2022.  DP explains that he “still believes this had to do, not with just high temperatures, but also a fairly warm winter” as this would result in the usual period of dormancy of the vines being slightly interrupted.

 

The 2023 vintage at GlenWood was very intense with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Nouvelle and Semillon reaching optimum ripeness within 7 days of each other.  The dreaded ‘loadshedding’ which has now become an unfortunate reality of most days in South Africa also added to the pressure.  February and the beginning of March were challenging months earmarked by very long days and late evenings in the cellar.

 

According to statistics, the 2023 vintage was the 4th smallest ever!  However, this did not impact the quality of the grapes.  The fruit quality at GlenWood was superb, especially from the white varieties, which is making us all at RAKQ very excited for these to be released to market.

 

During the second week of March the heavens opened with lots of rain.  This will most definitely have a significant impact on this year’s red varieties.  DP elaborates that “at this stage there are still cellars waiting for optimum ripeness and harvest after Easter will be a reality”.  Luckily with strategic planning, close monitoring of the vines and smart winemaking, the trickier natural vintage conditions that have affected some of the red varieties in Franschhoek can be mitigated.

 

This blog was edited and posted by Digital Squeak.