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Ernie Els Wines 2017 harvest shows intensity and complexity of a standout vintage
The vineyards at Ernie Els Wines are standing bare as winter has finally made its way to the winelands of Stellenbosch, writes L’Re Burger, Assistant Winemaker at Ernie Els Wines. The sun is lazy to make an appearance, while early mornings on the farm are met with an intense coolness in the air. The vineyard team is taking a well-deserved winter vacation while they wait for the vineyards to become fully dormant before pruning commences in August. In the winery, the team is slowly preparing to start blending and bottling the new vintage wines after they returned from their post-harvest break. With this winter calmness residing over the farm, the hustle and bustle of the 2017 harvest seems like many moons ago. Such is the circle of life here at the home of Ernie Els Wines.
The previous growing season had its challenges, which seemed to roll over into the 2016/2017 growing season with the continuation of the drought. Winter 2016 was quite dry with even less rain than the previous year. The winter did not provide enough consecutive cold units, but due to a non-existent spring, it did not impact the vineyards negatively.
Spring was an illusion, as we basically went straight into warmer summer days. Bud burst was good due to sufficient soil moisture, but with the warmer spring/summer weather the soil started losing moisture quickly, which naturally reduced shoot growth. The vineyard then naturally focuses its energy on developing and ripening the small bunches. The dryer conditions in the vineyards also meant less chemical spraying was required and the vineyard team had more time to focus on details of canopy management.
With moderate, but warm days during December and January, we saw the start of harvest return to its normal date. Merlot was the first variety to arrive at the winery in February, quickly followed by Shiraz. An abundance of warm days along with no intense heat waves during harvest, gave us ample time to fine-tune picking dates without placing any pressure on the winery. The uninterrupted warmth during harvest also helped the bunches reach optimal ripeness, while the berries steadily developed their flavours over a slightly longer period of time.
As the grapes arrived at the winery we did notice that both the bunches and berries were significantly smaller. This did not seem to have a big impact on the yield, although we observed some variances between the cultivars with Merlot producing slightly less, but the Shiraz loving the warmth. We treated the small berries that developed in the vineyards with great sensitivity, careful not to lose any flavours. We also adapted our fermentation techniques on most of our Cabernet Sauvignon batches to prevent over extraction, which gave us a good balance between tannins and flavours.
2017 was also the first vintage that we harvested grapes from the 412 Cabernet Sauvignon clone, planted in 2014. This is the first commercially-made wine from this clone in South Africa. The wine showed exceptionally well in our recent 2017 tasting. We are very optimistic about the potential of this clone on our wines as we plan to plant another 1.1 hectares of the 412 clone in August 2017.
Most of our wine batches have made their way into barrels and the great consistency of the 2017 vintage was evident at our recent 2017 wine tasting. Our young Cabernets are showing loads of intensity in colour and tannins with good potential for maturation. Another highlight was the Merlot, which the 2017 vintage definitely seemed to have favoured, showing elegance and untouched purity of fruit.
It is early days, but the 2017 harvest is definitely showing all the intensity and complexity of a standout vintage. While we patiently wait for the fast approaching start of the next growing season, we will brave the cold of the winelands winter with a glass of our favourite Ernie Els wines in hand. Here’s to another vintage to remember at Ernie Els Wines.