Sauvignon blanc triumphs in exceptional 2009 harvest

Date posted:
April 29, 2009

One of the best white wine years, especially for sauvignon blanc, with exceptional acidity and concentrated fruit intensity shaped by ideal, cool growing and slow ripening conditions.


This is the general consensus of the members of the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) about the 2009 harvest which will always be remembered for the raging mountain fires which swept through parts of the Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek and Helderberg areas for more than six weeks. Thankfully, with the exception of isolated areas where vineyards were damaged, interference with the flavours and aromas of the wine was contained as the strong south-easterly winds which fanned the flames also directed the smoke away from the vineyards.


Early predictions indicate that it will also be a particularly good year for cabernet sauvignon, especially in the Stellenbosch area where excellent balance, structure and fruit concentration can be expected. Merlot and shiraz look equally promising. While berries tend to be smaller with more intense flavours due to the cooler conditions, yields are generally higher than last year.


The intense “concertina effect”, as coined by winemaker Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck Wines, caused by the delayed start of the harvest by up to two weeks due to the unusually slow ripening of the early cultivars, and the earlier ripening of the late cultivars after the heat wave in March, necessitated extra hands and exceptional organisational skills in the cellar.


At Jordan Wines, an extra picking team was brought in to harvest some of the best chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon at the same time to prevent the grapes from losing their flavour or acidity in the heat.


“Harvesting reds and whites together on the same day was no longer an exception, it was the rule!” said winemaker Gary Jordan, whose chardonnay ripened much later than usual and the results are exceptional with very good acid levels and low pH.


Carl Schultz of Hartenberg says this year has “produced the best acids in a decade and lots of flavour all round.”


The coastal areas have once again produced excellent sauvignon blanc. John Loubser of Steenberg describes the 2009 vintage as “a sauvignonphile’s dream” with “unbelievable acids and highly aromatic flavours”.


Further south, Duncan Savage describes the 2009 vintage as “one of the best of the decade”, yielding the ripest canopies that he has yet seen during his tenure as winemaker at Cape Point Vineyards. Perfect ripening of the fruit also bodes well for sauvignon blanc with good natural acidity and superb flavours in the Durbanville area.


In the Botriver area, Niels Verburg is happy with the quality of his shiraz, while pinot noir and chardonnay look promising in Walker Bay.


Flood conditions in mid November in the Robertson region caused some damage to the vines and necessitated intense canopy management creating the added expense of bigger teams in the vineyards. Both chardonnay and pinot noir are looking good for the production of Méthode Cap Classique, as well as shiraz and cabernet sauvignon with good acids in the whites and full ripeness in the reds.


The wines in the Tulbagh region show more finesse and elegance with fine tannins and lower alcohol levels this year. Dewaldt Heyns of Saronsberg practiced aggressive green harvesting to remedy uneven ripening from the cold spells during flowering. These slow ripening conditions produced grapes of good colour and flavour profiles with phenolic ripeness at lower sugar levels producing lower alcohol levels in the wines.


In the Cederberg, the cold nights stretched out the harvest of the late ripening reds with very positive results, especially for cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, according to winemaker David Nieuwoudt.


The Calitzdorp region has high hopes for shiraz, touriga naçional and tinta barocca this year. 


Exceptional wines, crafted exclusively for the prestigious Nedbank CWG Auction by members of the Guild, will go under the hammer on Saturday, 3 October 2009 at the Spier Conference Centre near Stellenbosch. For further information, visit or call 021-852-0408.



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