“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”
The White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland Vintage 2022 kicked off late on 16 January with Pinot Noir for our MCC bubblies and stayed late all the way through. No amount of hurrying or wishing got the train back on schedule; not for a lack of trying it must be said. It did eventually come to an end on 8 April with the last load being Shiraz from the Breedekloof to everyone’s delight and relief.
Every vintage is different, bringing with it its own rhythm and character, its own challenges and curveballs. This one was no different. It is after all a core element of wine and part of what makes it so exciting and interesting to be involved with and explore. A wonderland of terroir, climate, grapevine physiology, winemaking science and intuitive expression that culminates in an experience of travel in time and space no less fantastic than Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole.
The run up to vintage was characterised by a good “typical” Cape winter with loads of cold unit accumulation and good rains over days that really did much to replenish the subsoil water tables and flush built up salts after the years of drought. The winter ran a little long and delayed budbreak too. Budbreak was even, if a little late and cool. Spring remained cool and saw numerous rainfall events that added disease pressure as well as compressing canopy work schedules like shoot thinning, wire lifting and leaf breaking. The somewhat inclement weather also placed strain on weed control and was of some concern through flowering but our fabulous growers were up to the task and managed these very well indeed.
The first part of summer saw continued cooler weather and almost perfect growing conditions which lead to good growth and in some places, most notably the dry land areas like Darling vigorous growth that needed multiple trimming actions and leaf breaks to temper. This cooler weather continued until 8 January when we had our first heat event, the first of many. By this time we were feverishly testing and tasting in the hopes or perhaps expectation of beginning harvest and confounded by the slowness of ripening.
The grapes were simply not ready yet. The heat had done some damage to the vineyards who had had a “soft” season until then but nothing to be too concerned about. Some light scorching of leaves and a little sunburn, all easily negotiated. Hurry up and wait is a saying familiar to those in film, television and armed forces; Winemaking too. When we finally got underway it was a stop start affair and our greatest challenges were managing our own anxieties as we knew that the longer the delay the bigger the wave will be somewhere in the middle. Early grapes had great analyses and the promise of a great vintage. Numerous small rainfall events, heat events and cool periods however made this vintage a topsy turvy one. It became clear that picking date and ph management were going to be the standout challenges of this vintage.
The variable weather had the effect of dropping the acidities while also slowing ripening. We were through the looking glass and into the Mad Hatter’s domain. Recipe’s out the window the team played each vineyard as it presented and called on our collective skill and experience to negotiate the vintage. Grapes in waves followed by periods of quiet before the next wave.
Analyses that made no sense and didn’t correlate to what we tasted in the vineyards. Make your reads, make your call and follow through on the shot. Over and over. Nothing easy this year and nothing textbook. It was like having an argument with someone who storms out the
room but then spends the next 30 minutes storming back in yelling “and another thing…”. Arduous to say the least.
What then of the wines? The wonderful thing about wine is that it’s a team sport from vineyard to bottle. We have a fantastic team if I say so myself. The wines are looking great at this early stage. Whites are receiving a little love from time on lees or maturing in barrel but the Chardonnay’s (earliest variety) are standouts at present. The Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache blancs are all in an awkward phase but they are looking on track to be superb.
The reds are busy with malolactic fermentation but also show fantastic colour and structure with bold fruit and it’s really tough to pick a stand out now as the earliest blocks naturally look the best as they are further along but there’s little to pick as a trend between varieties. Too early to declare victory as there is still a lot to do in the winery as vines and viticulturists begin to go into rest but we are all excited to see these wines in the bottle. A bumpy vintage negotiated with aplomb by a team that has become practiced at dealing with change and forging forward with conviction. Alice would be proud. I am.
Marco Ventrella- Chief Viticulturist