Luis from our sales team was over in South Africa recently and spent a couple of weeks with Johan Meyer. It’s a stressful time for South African winemakers, the country is experiencing the worst drought for over a century, and rainfall for the last three years has been way below normal.
Johan works with farmers across the Swartland region. They don’t irrigate, but the vines need a certain amount of water to photosynthesise. At a certain point, even older bush vines with their deeply established root systems struggle to tap into any groundwater. Without water, grape development stops, so somewhat counterintuitively, grapes can take longer to ripen during periods of extreme hot, dry weather.
When Luis arrived, harvest in the Swartland was running a few weeks later than average, so, rather than sorting grapes and filling presses he had to busy himself with other tasks.
Day 1 – No harvest yet. Instead, we labelled around 1,000 bottles of Force Majeure Chenin Blanc by hand. The price may need to go up!
Day 2 – More work in the winery – disgorging and hand-labelling two new Pet Nats, The Love Child Pinotage and Otome Chenin Blanc.
Day 3 – Rain at last! Niklaas, the cellar hand, said the last time he saw rain in the area was almost a year ago. Cause for celebration with a bottle of Johan’s new Pinot from Elgin. Made with whole clusters and carbonic maceration to give a light strawberry-coloured brew, it had vibrant red fruit aromas and a fresh palate with touch of amaro. Perfect thirst quencher.
Day 4 – There’s always something to do in the winery. Today we were topping up barrels of the 2017. This is sometimes referred to as paying the angels share, 2-5% of wine in a barrel can be lost to evaporation in a year. Plus, we were treated to a lesson from Niklaas, the Jedi Master waxer. I think he may have done a few of these before. Luis, the young Padawan waxer seems to be getting the hang of it, just 500 more to go Luis…
Day 5 – Finally some vines…
This east-facing vineyard at Scholes Farm in Paardeberg, with sandstone soil, was planted in 1967 with Pinotage and some Tinta Barroca. Pinotage is one of the earliest varieties to harvest, even before Chenin Blanc.
Day 6 – It’s happening HAAAARVEST!!
Today we start picking at Kweperfontein Farm in Joubertskloof. Four tonnes were harvested by hand, not a bad start. The 15-year-old Chenin Blanc vines you can see in the picture below go into Johan’s Force Majeure White and Mother Rock Liquid Skin (skin contact Chenin from Paardeberg granite). This year Johan is also making a zero sulphur Chenin under Joan Ramon Escoda’s ‘Brutal’ label.
First pressing of the Chenin Blanc. The small basket presses take longer to load and clean, but they’re perfect for small batches of grapes and are gentle on the fruit.
Due to the late start to the harvest, Luis only saw the Chenin Blanc come in. I caught up with Johan this week, he has some Mourvèdre in Swartland, and Pinot Noir from the Western Cape which goes into his Cradock Peak site remaining to harvest. He’s happy with the quality of the grapes, but said ripening was uneven, and some vineyards struggled with sun burn so rigorous selection was needed, and yields are down 50% on average.
Johan will be coming to London in early May, the perfect opportunity to ask him how the 2018s are looking, and to try new Kleinrivier Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Hemel en Aarde Ridge. Email us if you’d like to arrange meet Johan and taste.