For a winemaker, harvest time is about the quality of the grapes and the smooth sailing of cellar processes. Not entirely though.
“Of course, I would not have had a job if the grapes and the cellar were not priorities”, says La Motte Cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche. “But without being too sentimental about it, I also believe harvest time is about the people and the traditions of the winelands.”
La Motte enjoys adding some international flavour to its full-time farm and cellar teams for the duration of the harvest. This year, a young producer from Burgundy and a cellar worker from Cairan in the Southern Rhône region joined the team. “To communicate, we had to brush up on our French, because their English was not going anywhere”, laughs Edmund.
Also joining the team was a Franschhoek Valley local from Dennegeur, the housing initiative of the Rupert family farms.
“I am privileged to work with a skilled and enthusiastic team and for me it is important to keep the enthusiasm and energy going. Harvesting is our busiest time of the year – we have many challenges and work long hours, and although the quality of the grapes had long before been determined in the vineyards, harvest time is when we have a short opportunity to ensure we make the most of the vintage. The team understood this and I really could not complain about dedication! Having said that, our team of contract workers was smaller this year, as our Bot River grapes are now harvested by means of the latest technology through which sorting and destalking are done directly in the vineyards. It is quite something!”
La Motte’s annual Blessing of the Harvest ceremony and Oes-af party also involved the rest of the team on the estate. “In the end, harvest time puts extra pressure on everyone – from IT to Accounts to the Pastry Kitchen, who could hardly keep up with the orders for mosbolletjies!”
The harvest forecast for processing at La Motte was 1 770 tons. The estate’s popular aperitif-style Sauvignon Blanc represented the largest portion of grapes that entered the cellar, together with smaller volumes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Malbec, Shiraz, Temperanillo and Merlot. A few tons of fragrant Viognier destined for Straw Wine were also harvested and are at the moment patiently drying out on their straw beds.
Quality and Observations
Although drought and water restrictions are very topical, they are not always negative factors in the vineyard. (Read more). Vines prefer a cold and wet winter and are quite content with dry summers. Mild summer temperatures are, however, preferred for optimal ripening. “Vines are drought-resistant and in the absence of physical or chemical barriers, roots can penetrate the soil for up to 6 metres deep in search of water.”
The 2017 season has been dry and windy, but not exceptionally hot , while January was definitely cooler than in 2016. The drought and wind did however result in a potentially lighter harvest. “Bunches hadless moisture and weighed less – juice retention per ton was also less than average. This can, however, be beneficial for quality, as the concentration is better and analyses confirm that acids are higher and pH’s lower – a luxury in the warm South African climate. The cooler conditions also promise more flavour and better colouring and while it is early to talk about flavours, we are very pleased with the colour intensity on the first red grapes.”
In the absence of quality concerns and with volumes being down, harvest time was actually a breeze this year. “There is, however, always some kind of challenge! The 2017 season challenged us in terms of timing and the traditional late varieties were ripe earlier than expected. Cellar teams were under pressure too, but luckily our seasoned and spirited team does not easily back down from a challenge – whether it is loads of grapes or perhaps a limited French vocabulary!”