VINTAGE REPORT 2015
by MARTIN MOORE – Cellar Master – Durbanville Hills.
I have often heard old experienced viticulturists say that never in
all their years have they experienced two vintages that were exact
copies of each other. We winemakers will often compare one vintage
to another and say they were very similar “except for …” And then
enumerate the differences.
We found the 2015 harvest a lot easier-going than last year’s which
was huge and seemingly without end, keeping us on the go until well
after Easter. The past vintage reminds me very much of the one of
2009 “except for” the fact that this time we had higher intake
peaks. We have never had such a cool February in my 17 vintages at
Durbanville Hills, and for the first time we picked more grapes in
February than in March, picked nothing in April and finished well
before the Easter weekend.
So why in heaven’s name does it remind me of 2009 which was a walk
in the park with no intake peaks to speak of? When the weather in
February was moderate, when most of the picking was done in March?
Well, let me tell you why. The similarity lies in what you taste in
the tanks, for although terroir determines the characteristics of
a wine, it is the weather patterns that give the wines of a
specific vintage their personality.
When I peered into my crystal ball at the beginning of January, I
thought I saw a vintage with few intake peaks as the grapes on the
outskirts of the valley were developing way ahead of those on the
cooler inside. However, the cool days of February slowed the
ripening of the grapes on the outskirts allowing those on the
cooler inner slopes to gradually catch up.
Warm weather and ample sunlight are needed to degenerate the malic
acid and methoxypyrazine, the latter the chemical compound that
expresses itself as the greener flavours also called green pepper
characteristics – in Sauvignon blanc. We changed our vineyard
practices some time ago to include annual leaf thinning to allow
diffused sunlight to filter into the canopies and onto the bunches.
This encourages the development of tropical flavours and limits the
pyrazines to a level where they complement rather than dominate the
WHY THE CHEMISTRY LESSON?
Today the chemical analysis of grape samples to assess ripeness is
a crucial tool in the hands of the winemaker. At the same time I
believe the final decision as to when to pick should be taken in
the vineyard when you have assessed the grapes on the vine. Even
the most advanced laboratory tests to determine phenolic ripeness,
colour and aroma intensity cannot, in my view, replace the human
senses of seeing, feeling and tasting.
When picking a berry you look at how easily it detaches from the
pedicel. A slight squeeze tells you how the berry splits while in
the case of red cultivars, the area around the pedicle provides a
good indication of colour intensity. Then into the mouth it goes,
where I assess the ratio of skin to fruit and the extent to which
the seeds adhere to the flesh.
Sugar, acidity, astringency, greenness, flavour and balance are
checked on the palate. The pulp and juice are then discarded and
the seeds evaluated visually before they come under dental attack
to check whether they will crack. The skins get chewed 10 to 15
times to judge the hardness, green flavours and ability to tear.
I find it handy (pun intended) to squeeze and rub the crushed red
skins between thumb and index finger to get an indication of colour
intensity. Compared to chemical analyses that have to be evaluated
and plotted into a ripening profile, the human laboratory in the
vineyards automatically calculates all the input factors to reach
a conclusion: Are the grapes ripe or not? Do we pick or wait?
As the vintage progressed I realised that due to the few warm days
during ripening, we lacked the necessary intensity of sunlight to
sufficiently deteriorate the levels of pyrazine and malic acid in
the Sauvignon blanc. I consequently decided to leave these grapes
on the vine and to first concentrate on the already beautifully
ripe Chardonnay and the early red varietals.
By the way, it was clear almost from the outset that as far as the
reds were concerned, we had a great vintage on our hands. The
grapes showed exceptional colour while the skins and seeds were
ripe at lower sugar levels. Acidity was high and pH levels low. A
low pH is most important as it increases the maturation potential
of a wine.
But back to the Sauvignon blanc. Despite the concern of some of our
growers, we extended the hang time. I felt my patience rewarded
when tasting the young wine after fermentation – the pyrazine
levels had been capped while there was fruit in abundance, with
only a slight change in the personality of the wine. I felt even
more gratified afterwards when hearing from other winemakers who
picked earlier that their wines showed the green pepper
characteristics referred to earlier.
THINK PINK, NEW LABEL
Sauvignon blanc is usually the first wine of the vintage that we
bottle. However, the big thirst for our Merlot Dry Rosé will see
the pink wine taking pole position this year. Right now it is in
cold stabilisation, the last step before bottling. It will also
make history as the first wine to display our newly designed label
with its slightly lighter shade of pink. Although the label may
have changed, the wine has for one hundred percent the same flavour
and taste profile. One note of caution: the wine is as
easy-drinking as any red cool drink!
I have presented wine tastings in interesting places, but a recent
one in Namibia will take some beating. Gerrie Pretorius, presenter
of the TV travel programme Leef jou Reis (Live Your Journey)
invited me to present a tasting of our wines in the dunes of the
Namib desert followed by a session of stargazing.
After a somewhat hair-raising journey over high dunes we settled in
at a desert camp before going up yet another big dune to prepare
for the tasting. A display table was sculpted from sand and we were
ready to start. Fortunately the wind had largely died down at dusk
so the sand did not alter the texture of the wine. The desert was
hauntingly quiet until snoring emerged from every corner of the
camp after a cold fog rolling in from the ocean sent us all to bed.
Waking up the next morning for coffee and a scrumptious breakfast
we spotted two jackal high up on a dune in the mist, no doubt
trying to find out what raucous animals had invaded their territory
under the cover of darkness.
So, as tradition demands, we shall at this point raise our glasses,
this time, I suggest, to our growers who this vintage presented us
with grapes of exceptional quality, paving the way for a great
MARTIN MOORE – Cellar Master
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