Quality over quantity: RW Harvest Report 2019

Thanks to a series of unseasonable weather spells and the ongoing impact of last year’s drought, this year’s harvest has proven a challenging one for the team at Robertson Winery. But despite a lower yield – particularly in terms of red wine – there’s plenty to look forward to as harvest season comes to an end.

While drought was the word on everyone’s lips in 2018, its damaging effects are only truly being felt this year, with many farmers struggling thanks to the limited availability of water in the period following last year’s harvest. Without sufficient supply for post-harvest irrigation and fertilisation, this is likely to be the country’s smallest harvest in 15-20 years, according to Briaan Stipp, head Viticulturist at Robertson Winery.

“The drought has actually had far more of an impact this year than it did during the 2018 harvest period, and looks set to adversely affect the entire country’s wine production to a significant extent,” explains Stipp. “While our average harvest yields in the region of 40,000 tons, this year we’re looking at a final tally of 35,258 tons – a notable decline on last year’s 39,800.”

However, it isn’t only last year’s well-documented drought that’s wrought havoc with this season’s crops. Unseasonably warm weather in October hampered the growth of some berries, while a spell of heavy summer rain late in the harvest season slowed down sugar accumulation in some of the later ripening varieties.

But while there have been challenges aplenty, the fruits of this year’s harvest look set to be some of the best yet, particularly amongst the early-ripening varieties, which were harvested in optimal conditions.

“Weather during the first half of the harvest season was extremely favourable, resulting in a high-quality yield, which we’ll see reflected in varieties like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and some of the early-ripening reds,” explains Stipp. “Smaller berries have resulted in a better concentration and overall flavour, and as such, this year’s RW Oval Chardonnay will be one of the best we’ve had in quite some time.”

Red grape varieties were more adversely affected this year – both by the drought and the 60mm of rain which fell mid-way through the harvest season. As a result, yields on the red side are down 18% compared to 2018, as opposed to just a 4% decline seen in production of white wine.

“With conditions less favourable during the latter stages of the harvest, later-ripening varieties like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are likely to be lighter in style this year,” says Stipp. “Drought conditions last year affected the harvest of white varieties far more than red, accounting for a sharper decline in overall yield on that front.

But while 2019’s comparatively low yield is undeniably concerning, the reduced intake did have its bright side. “Due to the smaller harvest, we were able to use our facilities far more efficiently this year, allowing longer change-over times, which aided us in facilitating an easier, more thorough process overall,” concludes Stipp.

Providing rainfall patterns remain within normal parameters over the coming winter period, we can look forward to another bumper crop come 2020, with vineyards finally recovering from the damage caused by a series of dry winters.

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