Harvest 2006: South African Vintners Happy With Both Reds and Whites

Warm, dry conditions made it a very good year for structured Cabernets and Syrahs

Following on the heels of the strong 2005 vintage, South African vintners were once again happy in 2006, thanks to warm, dry conditions throughout the Cape’s top wine-producing areas.

«The foundation for the 2006 vintage was set during the 2005 winter,» said Charles Back, owner of Fairview and Spice Route wineries in Paarl.

The winter was particularly cold and wet, allowing the vines to experience a much-needed dormancy and the soils to be replenished after three straight years of heat and drought. Spring was marked by a slightly cool start with strong winds.

«[The combination] had viticulturists jumping,» said Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick Estate and Vilafonté in Stellenbosch.

In December and January, the vineyards went through a rapid drying-out period, exacerbated by the strong winds, and so irrigation was needed more than usual. This was followed by a brief heat wave midway through the growing season. The combination of factors led to a slightly reduced crop, with smaller-than-usual berries.

«The highlight of the vintage was the smaller berries and thicker skins than usual,» said Anthony Hamilton Russell, owner of Hamilton Russell in Walker Bay. «[This] resulted in deep colored, structured wine.»

Following the heat wave, the second half of the growing season brought moderate temperatures and clear weather through harvesttime, allowing vintners to pick at leisure.

«It was a ‘gentlemen’s’ harvest, with really no pressure to get the fruit in,» said Stellenbosch-based Ken Forrester, who is one of the region’s top Chenin Blanc producers. «Ripening was an even, steady process.»

Most growers reported excellent results with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cape’s two leading red varieties, as well as with the leading white varieties: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

«I’d rate the year as very good,» said David Finlayson, winemaker at Glen Carlou in Paarl. «Although not an absolute classic due to the January heat waves knocking the stuffing out of some of the fruit.»

Click here for the South Africa Vintage Chart.

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