South African winemaker, pioneer and all-round legend, Charles Back of Fairview and Spice Route shared his views on the 2016 vintage in a recent blog post, which we are pleased to reproduce here. He writes:
"In diversity lies strength, never has it been better demonstrated than in this harvest.
Our vineyard holdings spread across 4 diverse viticultural areas, of which close to 50% are dryland-farmed (unirrigated). These dryland vineyards are situated on the Darling hills overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and in the Swartland, just south of Malmesbury.
Farming our own vineyards in these dryland areas for almost 20 harvests has given us a clear understanding of the explicit correlation between winter rainfall and crop size. The soil is a sponge, soaking up all the winter rain which will sustain the vines over the dry summer; This past winter delivered less than half of the average rainfall across all areas, requiring early measures of crop control to ensure quality. Our Darling vineyards were thinned out to approximately 4 tons a hectare (25 hl/hectare) and in the Swartland we guided the vines to an average of 2 tons a hectare (12 hl/hectare).
At Fairview farm in Paarl, we fortunately have drip-irrigation which off-set the drop to only 20% less fruit than our average yield. We expect a similar impact for our vineyard in Stellenbosch.
With every dark cloud – although I have not seen one for a while – comes a silver lining. The small berries possess impressive concentration and surprisingly good freshness (low pH) and the first ferments show immense potential. This should be even more exciting with our late-ripening varieties like Tannat, Tempranillo and Mourvèdre.
Nature has provided a vintage for the hard-working viticulturalist and the laid-back winemaker; Boasting brilliant balance and complexity with minimal intervention is required in the cellar. It would have been extremely difficult to survive a vintage like this without the full control of our vineyards; it enabled us to make the right decisions for quality early in the season, knowing that exigent measures in the dryland vineyards would be off-set by vineyards supported by irrigation.
2016 will produce approximately two thirds of the expected volume. There will not be enough wine for everybody, but it will be exceptional!"
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