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Harvest report – Diamonds in the drought

Drought – it’s on everyone’s minds and when it comes to wine, it’s on everyone’s lips too. The Western Cape, and specifically the greater Cape Town area, has been hit by one of the worst droughts in recorded history and the repercussions – from dam levels to potential municipal water rationing – are real issues for both the present and the future. In the wine industry, winemakers are warning that the drought will have a massive impact on the quantity, quality and ultimately the pricing of their wine. To find out if Robertson Winery was facing the same threats, we spoke to two of our experts; viticulturist Briaan Stipp (the man the winemakers turn to for advice) and winemaker Jacques Roux (the guy behind award-winning wines like Constitution Road) for their take on this year’s harvest.

How was harvest this year? What was the impact of the drought?

Roux: Exceptionally good quality. We expected in the beginning it would not be good but it turned out very good on white and red wine. We are only about 6 percent down on tonnage. With the drought, what affected us the most was frost, which came early in the season on the white wine grapes. That impacts us the most and not the drought. We had water out of the Breede river to irrigate with and were not affected that much like Stellenbosch and the Olifants river.

Stipp: When we started harvesting the first lot was 15% lighter than previous years, so we thought we would only get 36000 tons, but the later varieties like Cabernet and Shiraz made up for that. Despite frost damage and drought we are only down by 6% whereas the Robertson valley as a whole is down by 10%.

How did you approach this harvest and what was the result?

Roux: We waited and were about two weeks later with the harvest than normal. We picked a little bit lower in sugar. I like to make white wines with lower sugar so you get more fruit flavours – so everything went positively on the white wines. On the red wine side you just wait longer. The 2018 vintage is going to be a vintage to remember and as I see it now, it’s going to be a very good one. It’s not standing back for any other harvest

Stipp: When we started harvesting the berries were smaller, so we had better skin to juice ratio. In terms of quality – there was no rot, no diseases whatsoever. We worried about the acids being a bit low because of the drought but in the end it has been an exceptional harvest. I think 2018 will be a special year. All the white wines are way above average. The reds are busy with malolactic fermentation but they are all looking good.

What was something you learned from this difficult harvest?

Roux: I think we give the vines too much water. The vines can survive without water and with water limitations.

Stipp: We all learned a lot, especially about water and the amount a vineyard needs to have a good crop. You can get by than much less water than most people think.

What wines should we keep an eye on?

Roux: The reds are still being pressed off or are going through malolactic fermentation, so I’ll tell you which are the outstanding ones a bit later,  but in terms of the whites our Oval Range Sauvignon Blanc is looking very good. The Chenin is also looking very good. We just finished blending it and are bottling next week.

Stipp: The Robertson Chardonnay is always up there with the best on the white side. On the red side, even when we started fermenting, I could see the Constitution Road promises great quality again.

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