After a very dry and difficult 2016 vintage we again experienced a very dry winter. The rainfall for June, July and August 2016 was much lower than the long term average for these usually wet months. Budding was surprisingly even if you consider the stress the plants had with the dry 2016 and the warm dry conditions after the harvest. It is now the driest spell in the Cape Town area since 1906 and the Western Cape has officially been declared a disaster area. Only our last block of Petite Verdot had a bit of unevenness. Budding was also later than the previous year. One advantage of dry conditions is that organic farming was a bit easier than usual in Stellenbosch. No real problems with mildew etc. and for our experienced vineyard team it was a bit easier.
Harvest started about a week later than last year with the first grapes arriving in the cellar on the 21st of January. These were Pinotage Organic grapes from our farm that we use for our very popular “Champagne style” Rosé sparkling wine. Pinotage was followed by some early picked young Chenin Blanc that we used in a carbonic maceration style white wine which was very interesting. Look out for a revolution in our Chenin because of all the whites this was the stand out white varietal for the year. Towards the end of January we also received some bought in organic Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and also some Chenin which we mostly used for our Organic Ladybird Rose. Chardonnay started like usual in the second week of February and I must say some of the batches in barrel are looking amazing. In general the whites from our farm were much better than what you would expect in such a warm, dry vintage. Again just a firm reminder that for consistency and long term quality “terroir” will always be king. We also harvested for the first time since 2009 a Sauvignon blanc which is a new project for us. The grapes are from McGregor and we picked it in several degrees of ripeness to see what we can expect. It will be a more tropical style of Sauvignon we think.
Pinotage for our new Reserve Grand RR was harvested in the second week of February and like usual it was amazing quality. This Bush vine block is reaching now its peak years ahead and we therefore decided to make something more special from it. We then had a bit of a brake before the first reds arrived. We had a short heatwave around the 21st of February which did not help us at all. Suddenly almost overnight ripeness levels jump by 2 – 3% and we had to harvest record amounts per day. Luckily for us this year we had a demo of a new automatic sorting machine in this time and therefore we could harvest and sort almost the double than what we usually do per day. We continued without any stop again for another two weeks. Space and managing the cellar was getting more difficult by the day and in desperation we had to buy in some new tanks to get all the grapes in as fast as possible. The drought final started to take its toll and the vineyards were starting to suffer.
Tannins were very good this year with good ripeness levels. Colour was absolutely no problem with really dark red almost black juice in abundance. Alcohol was much higher than what we are hoping for at Laibach and therefore skin contact was made shorter to prevent us from overextracting. Analysis was also much better than we expected with very good natural acids and good pH levels in both the red and whites. Merlot was the stand out varietal for us which is great because it plays such a big role in three of our most popular and respected wines like Claypot Merlot, Ladybird Red and Woolworths Organic Merlot. Natural Malolactic fermentation only finished at the end of May and therefore we also sulfured much later than usually. In general a good to a very good vintage with our yields about 9% up from the 2016 harvest.
If we look back I would say the vintage quality was something like a mix from 2000, 2005 and 2013. Luckily by now we have enough experience to make better wines than in the past because although we produce more we want the quality to improve all the time. Again like previous years we did not add any fining agents and controlled all our action with just plain good passion blended with experience.