A Vintage To Remember
8 March 2016
The 2016 vintage will be remembered as a harvest of “extremes”. The long, dry summer we experienced in the Cape translated into an early start for our whites and a slightly smaller crop from our Stellenbosch estate. A couple of weeks into harvest, we went from the excitement of an early vintage to battling our worst bush fire to date. We didn’t have time to dwell on what was lost to the fire, dusting the soot from our clothes and focusing our attention on the remaining 2016 crop hanging on our lower vineyards on Thelema and our Elgin farm, Sutherland Vineyards.
We have now taken in about 80% of our total harvest and wine maker Rudi Schultz says he’s truly excited about the quality of the white wines in tank and barrel and the fruit concentration throughout the red varieties due to the small berry size this vintage. The Sutherland whites look brilliant, with the slightly cooler Elgin weather a welcomed reprieve for the vines.
ALL IS NOT DOOM AND GLOOM
Gyles’ feedback following Thelema’s worst fire to date:
The evening of Monday the 18th of January I was sitting on our stoep with good friend Neil Ellis, drinking a superb Champagne and chatting about, amongst other things, the impending vintage, which we both agreed, looked very promising. The following evening was not a Champagne occasion; a fire had started above Johannesdal, to our east. At about 11 in the morning, when we saw the plume of smoke above the mountain, we knew immediately that we were going to be in for a very long night trying to minimize the inevitable damage which was to follow.
Fire is an obvious risk in our location and we try to prepare for this by sending our staff on fire-fighting courses, establishing fire breaks and getting water and fire hoses to the areas directly above the vineyards. The problem is that these fires don’t play by our rules. This year was especially hot and dry, converting the fynbos into a virtual powder keg. The fire, fanned by favourable winds, raced across the mountain and made all our fire breaks and plans look silly. Sparks flew like mortars, setting off new fires 50 to 60 metres away, and our attention shifted from looking after the vineyards to looking after ourselves. It is a genuinely frightening experience to be close to one of these events; the heat is unbearable but the worst is the smoke – first of all you can’t see and then you can’t breathe. Which brings me to sincerely commend all our staff, who experienced all of these discomforts themselves, for their unflinching dedication to defend the property and also to our friends and neighbours for their spontaneous, brave and extremely generous assistance. Fortunately nobody was hurt and the damage was limited to the vineyards and sadly, to our wildlife and vegetation.
The aftermath of the fire is that we have lost considerable crop and some of the vineyards will need to be replaced. Probably more sad than that is that we have lost my favourite tree, a beautiful ‘Klip kershout’ (Maytenus oliodes), which is probably over 300 years old and stood watch over our best Chardonnay block, which is itself in ICU. Hopefully the Chardonnay vineyard will recover.
However, all is not gloom and doom. The fire affected the vineyards planted against the slopes of the mountain. These account for about 20% of our plantings on Thelema. The problems related to fire-damaged vineyards are two-fold: first of all there were vines that were destroyed by the fire, which will need to be replaced, and then there is the effect of smoke taint to the grapes and the resultant wine. We estimate that we will replace about 4 hectares of vines, which is an irritation because we will have to wait for about 6 to 7 years before reaping a crop from these vines. On the smoke taint issue we have better news; this is not the first fire we’ve had a fire here, and we’ve learnt a thing or two about smoke taint. We have sacrificed a lot of fruit to ensure that there will not be a hint of smoke taint in our wines this year! Fortunately the vineyards further away from the mountain were not affected at all and we’re very happy with the fruit quality this year. And we are very fortunate to have our Elgin property which is producing superb fruit.
This has been an extremely early and challenging vintage for us but we’re still hopeful that some lovely wines will be forthcoming.
As always we are very happy to see you on the farm, so pop in for a taste and a chat if you’re in our area.
A huge thank you to everyone that updated their profiles in the month of February. The lucky winner of a Magnum bottle of Thelema Rabelais 2011 is Jon van Gottberg, Johannesburg.
NEW VINTAGE RELEASE
Thelema Rabelais is the exemplary blend of our best parcels of wine from that particular vintage and the soon to be released 2012 vintage continues in the opulent style of the previous releases. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot has resulted in a wine showing upfront black fruit and cassis aromas, hints of perfume and spice and a focussed palate of pure fruit expression and fine tannins.
Pre-order your parcel of the 2012 vintage (due for release at the end of March).
AUTUMN EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
- 13 – 15 March – ProWein 2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany
- 18 March – Food & Wine Evening in collaboration with The University of Johannesburg’s School of Tourism and Hospitality. For more info visit Facebook, phone +27 11 559 1141 or email email@example.com.
- 31 March – Wine and Dine at Saigon Rivonia, Sandton, Johannesburg. For more info phone +27 11 807 5272.
- 7 – 8 April – FNB Mpumalanga Wine Show at Emnotweni Arena, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga
- 13 April – Tuning the Vine at #InnerCityWineRoute, CBD, Cape Town