On my first night there was a thunderstorm, providing a much needed 1ml of rainfall to the area, but after the dramatic start the weather has been calm with rarely a cloud in sight. In the winery, I have been punching down, pumping over, adding, subtracting, measuring, and titrating. Sunburned ears aside, no injuries have befallen me, with my fingers crossed for the rest of the harvest. Free time has been limited and I have been fairly tired in the evenings whilst readjusting to being on my feet most of the day. However, I did manage a walk up to the impressive Taal monument with stunning views over the valley to the Simonsberg and Groot Drakenstein (Simon's Mountain and Great Dragonstone).
It looks like this is going to be a tough harvest for South Africa. In some vineyards, yields are down by as much as 50% due to the third consecutive year of drought stress on the vines, which have minute berries of mostly skin and pips. Nevertheless, the fruit arriving at the winery is of great quality with fantastically ripe tannins. Some of the varieties seem to be really flourishing in this heat - the Petit Sirah/Durif coming in is gorgeous and it seems to be a great Merlot vintage. There was a brief respite from the winery work in the form of the Stellenbosch wine fair on the Saturday, although taking part in various drinking challenges made the Sunday morning 7am punch downs particularly challenging.
I have been quite literally up to my chest in grapes for the past week. It has been an incredibly busy few days as the red wine harvest really kicked off. There are only a few vineyards left to take in, mainly Cabernets from the Stellenbosch area. In between the routine of pump overs and punch downs, winemaker Anthony de Jager took me to the Peg Leg and Jakkalsfontein vineyards, which are beautifully situated overlooking Babylon's Peak and the strange terrain of the Swartland. Mercifully, I didn't need to pick the bush vines in the heat myself, but it was great to test the hand-harvested grapes before they came in, then do the fermentation all the way through. One of the downsides of handpicked grapes is that they have to be manually put into the foudres, which meant I personally lifted the 600 20kg boxes from the bottom of a ladder up to the top of the foudre (for the 20% whole bunch) or into the grape sorter - exhausting to say the least!
Now in its 11th year, our apprentice programme is unique in the industry, offering a detailed yet wide-ranging experience across all aspects of the business. In addition to placements in all our departments – from customer services and sales to marketing and logistics – each apprentice studies for the WSET Diploma Level 4 qualification, as well as spending one month in Europe for the vintage in their first year, then two months in the southern hemisphere in their second year.