Wine expert on how drought affected South African wine production
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International wine critic and wine master Tim Atkin recently released his 7th Annual East Africa Report. and 2017 as exceptional vintages of the SA.
Tim’s in-depth report not only highlights these vintages, but notes important wines in the industry and focuses on ten of the latest wine trends in South Africa, including the impact of drought, the Old Vines Project and the booming fine wine sector.
We met the local oenologist Roland Peens, director of
Wine cellar– wine merchants – to give us a look at our 2017 vintage which conceals an interesting contradiction; hit by South Africa’s worst drought in centuries and yet full of promise.
Q: It looks like 2017 is shaping up to be an exceptional wine vintage, what factors do you take into account?
The word “terroir” is often used as the key to wine and its degree of grandeur. The terroir includes in particular the soil and the climate, but in France, it also includes the winegrower and his culture.
In 2017, we benefited from a dry and healthy harvest which led to concentrated and healthy wines. With very little fine wine culture and a relatively short winemaking period in Cape Town, we still rely on the human factors of the terroir. However, a revolution is happening, especially with rejuvenated old vines and energetic young winemakers, which means the industry is in a good era of winemaking. Our winemakers have a clearer idea of how to make the best Cape wines than ever before.
Q: In terms of yield, comparing 2017 and 2018 and taking into account the severe drought that South Africa suffered, what was the performance of the country during the 2017 harvest and what was the impact on the crop? Marlet ?
The 2017 vintage surprised everyone with a healthy yield, similar to 2016. Thanks to this yield, we saw both quality and volume. 2018 is drastically down, however, and we will see an impact across all sectors in the future.
Fine wines generally proliferate under short-term dry conditions, leading to more concentrated wines. In the long term, however, the vine will find it difficult to go into desperation mode, producing less balanced wines. On the bulk wine side, there is a serious shortage and I’ve heard that bulk wine prices have more than doubled since the start of the year. Along with the heavily frozen 2017 European harvest, a global shortage of entry-level wines is on the horizon. Prices are expected to increase.
Specific regions you are looking for as rising stars of this vintage and why?
There are so many great wines in 2017 that it is impossible to name a particular region. The key in 2017 is how good entry-level wines are due to the healthy and dry conditions. The winemakers who have cultivated their vineyards in pristine health are the real stars. The wines are made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.
Q: Do you have any advice for the South African public on what they should collect and set aside in a year of presenting fine South African wines in a very positive light?
Make your choice! The best wines, especially the reds, will not be released until next year. The whites will age well, however, and there is no reason not to add volume to your favorite Sauvignon, Chenin or Chardonnay.
Q: Any personal favorites from 2017 that you are excited to present to Wine Cellar?
The Chenin Blanc is on fire in 2017 and almost all the wines we have tasted offer additional equipment in this vintage. From cooler climates to warmer peripheral regions, Chenin Blanc offers unique South African flavors, wonderful natural acidity and beautiful texture. Our pick is Attie Louw’s Opstal Chenin blanc (R100) from the Slanghoek Valley on the Breedekloof wine route. It is a wine of seductive complexity and elegance that could easily sell for twice the price.
Q: How do you see this exceptional vintage placing South African wines as a whole more on the international map?
We’re already the darlings of many international wine critics, as wine events like the Swartland Revolution and Wine Cellar’s Young Guns have leaned on icons like Klein Constantia, Kanonkop, and Hamilton Russell. 2017 will push us further in the discovery of more diversity but also more identity and confidence in Cape Wine.