You won’t find a farmer in the Western Cape who won’t say it’s been a challenging season for the wine industry. But, Charles Hopkins, Cellar Master at De Grendel says, this may result in some of the most interesting wines to come out of the estate for years.
‘When we look back in three or four years’ time, people will remember the intensity of weather conditions, but say it was a great year for red wines,’ says Hopkins. ‘The heat doesn’t affect the reds as much as white grapes. The lower rainfall led to smaller berries, but small, thick-skinned berries are what you actually want. The smaller the berry, the better the colour. The De Grendel Shiraz 2016 is looking great, as are the Merlot and Pinotage.’
The January heatwave and low rainfall have inevitably had a profound affect with Hopkins estimating the whole industry will be down between 10 and 20%. Fortunately, De Grendel has water on the farm, but the heat was still challenging.
‘You hope for a cool, moderate hanging or ripening time in January, but this year we experienced temperatures between 33 and 40 degrees on the farm every day,’ says Hopkins. The hot and dry conditions lead to a drop in the acids, he says. ‘All wineries, including De Grendel, will have had to buffer their pH this season to ensure the wine stays fresh and crisp and there’s enough balance and longevity.’
Crop sizes are also down, dropping from 80 to 60 tons per block, with Sauvignon Blanc hardest hit and down by about 35%, with both smaller clusters and berries due to the heat. ‘We started picking on January 11 and I was feeling pretty depressed!’ confesses Hopkins. We started with the sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There is usually a lag and you wait a while to pick the Sauvignon Blanc, but this year we were straight into it. We were boots and all into Sauvignon Blanc,’ he says.
The concern, he explains, is that the heat ‘cooks away the flavours in the fruit’. ‘Our Sauvignon Blanc were very fruity and great to taste. My challenge was to lock up these flavours in the wine, and I think I have achieved this.’
De Grendel usually purchases the additional Sauvignon Blanc for the estate’s award-winning De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, but this year Hopkins says had to source more grapes than usual. Because of shortages in the Darling area, grapes were bought from Lutouw on the West Coast, instead. ‘I had to choose grapes that fit with the Darling style. Lutouw is three kilometres away from the ocean. It’s a very special location, but a real logistical challenge to get the grapes. It wasn’t our first choice, but I’m very pleased with the results of the De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2016.’ As a result of the change, this year’s vintage will be classified origin ‘Western Cape’ rather than ‘Coastal’.
In summary, Hopkins says the De Grendel Merlot 2016 and De Grendel Shiraz 2016 will highly collectable. ‘The acid in our De Grendel MCC Brut 2016 is a bit lower, but in a few years it will possibly become rounder, sweeter and more crisp,’ he says. ‘I think we will look back on this season as challenging, but ultimately exciting for our wines.’