01 March 2021

To sit and reflect, at this time every year, on the season behind and project into the future for vintage, is normally a jovial fool’s errand with perhaps 50/50 success, but fun none the less. This year is a very, very different animal. From lockdown immediately after harvest 2020, alcohol bans, COVID19 through the year to date. So many words, key words, touchstone words, trigger words, a multitude of words with immediate visceral impacts on us all. Lockdown, Sanitise, Isolation, Curfew, travel restriction, zoom meetings, working from home, mute button failures, Spouses/kids/pets fails on video meetings, toilet paper shortages, mask, testing, sick, infected, hospitalised, public health care system and increasingly now on a planetary scale: Condolences.

Almost every person on the planet is dealing with various losses from loved ones to livelihoods; from lifestyle to emotional wellbeing. All the while; we all press on; trying our best to live our lives and do what we do. We make wine. This tradition stretches back to the earliest recorded history of man for thousands of years, unbroken. We make wine in South Africa where, we have done so since 2nd February 1659, unbroken. We make wine at KWV where we have done so since 1918, unbroken. We grow wine on soils many hundreds of million years old and do so still.

We generally define Terroir as the combination of Geology, Soil, Climate, Topography, Cultural Practices and People. It was ever so and will remain that way. We put a vintage on the bottle because the wine captures all these elements through the year and expresses them in the glass with development, reflecting the year like a time capsule with a sense of place.

Some other words then: Resilience, Recovery, Vaccine, Quality, Passion, Compassion, and Community. History will record this period as dramatic and important for the human race. There will be outstanding wine made from this period to toast our human spirit. A fair bit of it made right here because, we make wine.

Winter 2020 delivered good rainfall and cold that saw us returning to long term averages and the end of the drought that had tested all in the Western Cape for the last 5 years.

Spring 2020 was defined by later bud break and particularly cool and wet conditions. Variable bud break was observed on a number of varieties and in particular on the old “wild child” Shiraz. Flowering 2020 saw a continuation of this trend of cooler weather, intermittent rainfall and overcast conditions with lots of wind. This resulted in variable flowering in most vineyards both intra and inter bunch. Flowering is the real starter’s pistol for the season/vintage and variability here is often there to stay and takes much management throughout to deal with. The increased rainfall also brought significant disease pressure to most areas, in particular Downey Mildew. The Growers did really well to manage the pressure and keep the vineyards healthy.

Summer has been a far cooler affair that we have been used to with particularly cool nights. This is per se a very good indicator of a quality vintage. We received only one or two warm days that were immediately followed by a cool spell all the way into late January. The grape and canopy condition was excellent and frankly picturesque. “This is looking like a great vintage” we whispered to ourselves, mindful of not angering the gods.

Harvest began on 21st January, 14 days later than last year, with Pinot Noir for MCC from Stellenbosch. Everything was taking its time and vintage was a stop start affair ever since. The sedate pace continued with the first still whites only coming in early February. Things picked up through mid-February only to slow back down towards the end of the month.

We are in a warm spell now with a number of red vineyards on the edge of ready so expect a busy two weeks ahead. The 2021 vintage does seem to be a return to more normal timing and allowing for good hang time and fabulous phenolic ripeness.

“Predictions?” he repeated in his most incredulous tone, “Oh, all right then. But just for fun!” The grapes are coming in with really great acidity this year. Wonderful freshness and flavour across the board. The whites in cellar and absolutely beautiful with punchy aromatics and fabulous lines. The reds are still mostly outside and they look like winners. Those in the cellar display great concentration and supple ripe tannin with oodles of colour and flavour. I predict a great vintage with Sauvignon Blanc packed with tropical and green flavours, Chardonnays with nervous linearity and tightness, Chenin Blanc generous with fruit but structured. On the Reds the Shiraz and Cabernets looks exquisite. The Merlots are full of fruit and crunch and the “other” varieties like Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and Tempranillo looking like absolute show stoppers.

With that it’s back to managing the intake of grapes and doing what we do. We make wine.

Marco Ventrella