KWV’s wine and harvest team have undoubtedly mastered the art of wine harvesting. Once a year, winemakers, viticulturists, cellar workers and laboratory personnel join hands to reap the fruits of their labour. Cue pride, joy and weeks of unimaginable planning.
Harvest 2020 started on 7 January 2020 – a fairly early vintage as initial véraison was spotted on a number of varieties by early December 2019. The KWV harvest team kicked off with Pinot Noir for the brand’s Méthode Cap Classique offerings at a somewhat lower yield than in 2019, followed by particularly tropical Chardonnay, and late bloomer Sauvignon Blanc. Next in the harvest line for white varieties came Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.
According to Marco Ventrella, KWV Chief Viticulturist, weather conditions during harvest were ideal. “We’ve had good sunlight with little rain, unlike the 2019 harvest characterised by ample showers. From a health and ripening point of view, 2020 is a very good year. While February was nice and warm, January was surprisingly mild with warm days and cool nights.”
Harvesting grapes from 54 farms scattered across the Western Cape’s Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swartland, Perdeberg, Malmesbury, Darling, Elgin, Robertson and Wellington regions, what KWV and its harvest team achieve yearly is a mindboggling feat of meticulous planning and precise execution. During harvest season, the viticulture team clocks thousands of kilometres a month on the road tasting and chewing on grapes from over 400 different vineyards. Mission? Determining exactly when each variety should be picked judging by the berries’ flavour, colour release, and tannin and texture structure. “We are a well-practiced team incredible in its ability to figure out what to do next – and doing it. Our ethos is first and foremost giving our consumers the very best.”
“Grapes came in at quite a brisk pace at the beginning, but reaching the end of January, things came to a complete halt coinciding with the New Moon. We basically had to hurry up and wait. Some five days later, whites came in with a furious vengeance with the white wine cellar handling almost double the fruit volume they would on a typical day. Every day, for a two-week stretch, we brought in 70% of the entire white wine harvest, tipping and pressing well into the night,” adds Marco.
At the helm of KWV’s white wine team responsible for production of all white, Rosé and sparkling wines, Kobus van der Merwe’s passion and dedication is almost tangible. From the moment white grapes are delivered at KWV, Kobus and his team take charge. “From the get-go, the quality is of high standards and 2020 seems to be a very promising harvest. But mother nature is always in control and kept us on our toes with challenges like ripening variation in vineyard blocks and within the bunches itself. This made the decision when to pick extremely complex.”
Kobus continues: “The success story here was a cool, calm and experienced team making sure the quality and standards were kept high. Chardonnay and especially Chenin Blanc are standouts for the vintage so far, while Sauvignon Blanc really shows potential, especially from the Darling area.”
“Harvest requires constant communication with programme co-ordinators, farmers wineries and winemakers. It’s about perfect cohesion.” – Marco Ventrella, KWV Chief Viticulturist
With the red wine team aflutter with anticipation, 7 February 2020 saw a significant turnaround when reds finally took the harvesting stage after high temperatures caused accelerated ripening. On 13 February 2020, KWV broke the record for the most fruit brought into its Paarl facility on a single day with 800 tons of red grapes – a total of 2000 plus tons from 10-14 February 2020.
Multi-talented oenologist and Roodeberg winemaker, Louwritz Louw, heads KWV’s red wine team. “We are making great progress. It’s still early days, but all the signs indicate a very good season and 2020 vintage.”
For some of the vineyards, mid-February’s cooler weather and waning moon saw a drop in ripening tempo. Just as well, as the scheduled harvesting volume for the week of 17-21 February 2020 amounted to, yet again, more than 2000 tons for the red wine cellar. This year, red varieties like Shiraz, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre are evidently bearing significantly more than expected.
Winemaker for KWV’s flagship brand, The Mentors, Izele van Blerk is no stranger to coveted accolades. Known for her formidable winemaking technique, Izele says they are eagerly awaiting ideal phenolic ripeness on Pinotage grapes. “This was the opposite with Shiraz for instance, and for The Mentors range, it’s incredibly important to find that sweet spot. Notable varieties this year? Premium Pinotage from Stellenbosch, Swartland and Darling looks excellent – dark fruit with great concentration and good tannins. Also, Malbec, early Shiraz to be used for a variety of styles, and I am exceptionally excited to receive my first batch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Although Petit Verdot and Petit Sirah are late this year, both are looking stunning. Excluding Pinotage, it seems like the grapes are ripening much faster. It’s safe to say that my cellar has never been this packed.”
As the sun almost sets on Marco’s 17th harvest season for KWV, he remarks: “At any given moment, we are playing seven chess games all at once, but with experience, creative hypotheses and intuition we create exquisite time capsules – with every sip of wine, you have the opportunity to travel back to a certain time, a certain place.”