This morning we picked the first grapes for the season and on 2 February, we celebrate SA wine’s 363rd birthday. The 2022 SA harvest is here. It is predicted to be slightly late again and slightly smaller, but I can feel the anticipation. Have you ever experienced the energy of a wine grape harvest? Here is what we expect from the 2022 harvest and a few ways in which you can become part of this special time in the winelands.
Like the previous growing season, the 2021 winter was cold and wet. Cooler and wet conditions persisted even until late December and as a result, the harvest will start at least ten days later than usual. The set of bunches and berries were good considering the conditions and at the moment Vinpro is predicting the overall harvest to be slightly smaller than in 2021, although this is not true for all regions. Yield expectations are quite varied for the different growing areas. Wetter conditions caused an increase in disease for some, while dry land vineyards benefited. The exceptional heat experienced mid-January would have caused sunburn in certain vineyards with a resulting loss in weight and quality. In Paarl, the harvest is expected to be 5% less while neighbouring Stellenbosch is predicted to exceed the 2021 volume with 15%.
Climate and growing conditions are not the only factors contributing to the size of the harvest, however. Vineyard restructuring and uprooting – especially in the Northern Cape, Olifants River and Robertson, known for their high yields – will also have an impact. In Franschhoek we expect less grapes as a direct result of poorer fruit set, but the reverse is true for Elim and Stellenbosch. Although disease pressure was high in all the vineyards, timeous canopy management had a substantial effect on drying vineyards and limiting fungus.
While vineyard and winemaking teams are gearing up for the busiest time of their year with one eye on weather forecasts and another on ever-changing schedules, harvest time is an exceptional opportunity for wine lovers. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in the winelands, know all about getting stuck behind a tractor and wagon with grapes en route to the cellar. We see vineyard workers on their way to work early in the morning and if you drive past a wine farm late at night, you will see the cellar lights still burning. Locals do not even notice the red stained hands and clothes of the cellar team anymore and we are familiar with the sweet-sour smell of fermentation. We also know that it is the season for mosbolletjies, that delicious brioche-type bread baked using mos or fermenting grape juice. There is something so honest and authentic about harvest time. Even though we don’t stump grapes with our feet anymore, the romance of harvest time does not get lost in the winemaker’s skilful use of technology.
Harvest time is a celebration. If you live nearby or have the opportunity, make sure to visit a winery during February and March. Many present special cellar tours or harvest experiences. The one at La Motte, for instance, complements your wine tasting with a guided walk through vineyards and a cellar tour to experience the pressing action and taste the fermenting grape juice. Also look out for harvest-inspired menus and recipes and if there is a mosbolletjie left on the shelf, buy it immediately!
If you are just too far to make it to a wine farm, you are invited to celebrate SA wine’s 363th birthday during a virtual celebration on 2 February. On this date in 1659, Jan van Riebeeck noted in his diary: “Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape grapes.”
In the past year, we have been blessed by the support of wine drinkers and tourist (predominantly local, but some brave international ones too). Now we invite you to join us in celebrating the harvest of 2022!