Graham Beck Wines – 2010 Harvest Report

With soccer mania building to a fever pitch around the country Graham Beck Wines has naturally been imbued with the infectious spirit of the impending World Cup. So it’s no surprise then that the team dubbed Harvest 2010 “Operation Ayoba”! You’re bound to hear this exuberant expression echoing throughout the stadium during football matches when a goal is scored. And, perhaps, around the cellar when a particularly good parcel of fruit comes in!

Harvest time is, in fact, much like a game of football, requiring precision timing, match tactics, dexterity, sound strategy, adequate warming up, sufficient preparation, deft obstacle dodging and some fiercely fancy footwork! It’s a time of year that tests every member of the team to their limits, requiring long hours, meticulous attention to detail and more than a few sacrifices along the way! Fortunately the hard work has paid off and we’ve got some stunners in the cellar which we can’t wait to share with you. Laduuuuuuuma!

On your marks, get set…go!

Kick-off this year was on 12 January, while the last grapes were received on Thursday, 25 March. “This means we were on the go for a solid 11 weeks from the first day of harvest to the last,” comments Graham Beck Wines cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira. The total number of actual days harvested was 47 – a much shorter harvest then, but more compact and naturally far busier. Total tons brought into the Robertson cellar was 2 066, while the Franschhoek cellar took in a total of 1 088 tons. At our Robertson Cellar most of the pressing this year was completed before the Easter Weekend – a first for us!

 A word from our weatherman

It’s a well known fact in vineyard management and winemaking that all the gadgets, gizmos, planning and prep work one has stashed in your arsenal don’t stand a chance against the vagaries of Mother Nature. This year’s weather conditions once again put us to the test on more than one occasion. Fortunately, however, the Graham Beck Wines team is adroit at ‘rolling with the punches’ as viticulturist Marco Ventrella explains.

At times the weather had us all as baffled as Adam on Mother’s Day! “El Niño played a starring role for vintage 2010 in South Africa with a cold wet winter and a colder than expected start to spring. This resulted in budbreak occurring two weeks earlier than usual, however the cool September temperatures also delayed shoot growth,” explains Marco.

 Although downy mildew outbreaks were common throughout the wine regions, a combination of good luck and sound planning ensured that crop losses were minimal, although mildew spores were regularly seen on the tops of the young shoots. “Our weather stations paid for themselves ten times over this season, as the vineyard spray programmes could be planned in advance of any cold fronts that seemed to hit the Cape with monotonous regularity,” reports Marco.

 Early summer canopy management was vital due to predicted wind speeds. In the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek areas phenomenal wind damage wreaked havoc in the vineyards. “The September and October wind speeds were almost double the average for the summer months and this delayed early vineyard growth,” says Marco.

 The wild and windy conditions then gave way to a summer of searing heat and drought in the Western Cape with almost no rain from December through to mid-February. Heat waves buffeted the Cape from 2nd January and the mercury soared. This resulted in a harvest characterized by plenty of ‘hurry up and wait’! We experienced ‘stop start’ ripening that had everything in a cultivar or style range ready simultaneously, followed by an agonizing wait for the next run. February delivered a few scorchers as well. “Never a dull moment and challenging to be sure! Thanks El Niño…but hold the hot sauce!” concludes Marco.

 Something stellar in the cellar!

Despite the best efforts of the elements to outplay us with a few sneaky curveballs and cunning conundrums the winemaking team is more than chuffed with the overall fruit quality this year.

 White wine winners…

“Regardless of all the external factors the fruit quality has been exceptional,” affirms Pieter. “We are thrilled with the fresh fruity Chardonnays with tons of minerality and Pinot Noirs with lovely strawberry, cherry structure for the base wines, while the Sauvignon Blancs showed good concentration and complexity,” he reports. Erika Obermeyer our Franschhoek winemaker and self confessed Sauvignon devotee agrees: “At this stage the Sauvignon Blanc may just be on par with our champion vintage of 2007, but we wouldn’t want to let the cat out of the bag just yet,” she quips.

The Sauvignon Blanc in general and especially those portions destined for Pheasants’ Run received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Erika. “The juice I tasted during harvest was really remarkable,” she recalls. Cool ripening conditions and sufficient sun exposure resulted in fantastic flavour profiles for this cultivar. “I’m almost more excited about these delicious flavours than I was for the fantastic Sauvignons of 2009. Pheasants’ Run 2010 is going to knock your socks off,” she maintains.

 Still on the white side, the Viognier proved to be “a maniac” with sudden spurts of ripening resulting in a frantic “all hands on deck” situation during the picking period. Chenin Blanc also toyed with the team’s emotions, with a few ‘feminine wiles’ coming to the fore in those frustrating episodes where this cultivar said both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time! Fortunately the Chenin redeemed itself by expressing great complexity and freshness of character. “In fact the Chardonnay (at slightly lower alcohols than previous harvests), Viognier and Chenin Blanc have all proved to be true to their varietal characteristics and promise to produce some gorgeous wines,” confides Pieter.

 Ravishing reds…

The reds were not to be outdone and 2010 shows all the signs of being a particularly good vintage for Graham Beck Wines. “We believe it’s going to be a great year for our reds, despite a few nerve wracking moments in the cellar,” comments our Robertson winemaker Irene Waller. “There were stages in the final ripening that the reds threatened to roll in like a motorcycle gang fresh from a rally, brimming with bravado and testosterone, to take over the cellars en mass. All the while we nervously eyed the sky as weather bulletins were predicting rain and possible flash floods in some areas in the last week of February,” she recalls.

 In Franschhoek, too, the intense heat accelerated the ripening of almost every block of red and Erika reports it was the first time in her 11 years of winemaking that she was able to harvest everything within two weeks. This of course caused consternation in the cellar and fermentation space became more sought after than white gold! The new sorting table in the red wine cellar also afforded the team an opportunity for even more rigorous and meticulous berry selection – adding a whole new dimension to the wines. Shiraz and Cab in particular show great promise this year…expect some lip-smacking moments with these beauties!

 Overall the reds are looking radiant with great depth of colour and bright upfront fruit. The tannins are gentle and far more aligned with the rest of the fruit and structure, which will ensure a mouthfeel that is wonderfully rich, yet elegant and refined.

Blissful bubblies…

Robertson remains the stalwart on the base wine front for our Cap Classique production, proving just how well suited this region’s terroir is for the cultivation of these varieties.

 Notes from the trenches include this one from Pieter penned during the height of harvest mania: “Just to let you know that we are all still alive and well and that the ‘Bubbly Grapes’ are finally just about all harvested. After today we are very, very close to 1 000 tons. Bloody brilliant! We are happy that the grapes, after what is considered to be a difficult season, have arrived in a pristine and healthy condition! By Wednesday 3rd February we should have all the grapes in for our Cap Classiques. After the weekend 50% of the base wines will be fermented dry and we can get a good idea of where we are in terms of taste profiles for our various styles. We are constantly monitoring the progress of fermentation and will report then… over and out!”

 Subsequent missives during this year’s rather challenging ‘pars’ were equally ebullient…it appears, true to form, that we’re in for some top notch Cap Classiques.

 Many hands make light work

At Graham Beck Wines we understand the pivotal role that teamwork and strong morale plays in a successful harvest. This year proved to be no exception with both our Franschhoek and Robertson teams showing remarkable passion and commitment under particularly trying conditions. “The vineyard and cellar ‘spanne’ were fantastic with their effort and dedication,” says Pieter proudly.

Irene reports: “The harvest interns we had this year must be the best to date. Elisma, Pierre and Praisy managed the night harvesting with aplomb but were understandably relieved to go back to normal hours. Despite becoming a father for the third time early into harvest Lusanda spent most weekends in the cellar doing his bit. Our casuals Flip, Chris, Stiaan and Mias gave endless support to Benna especially on weekends when pumpovers were required at odd hours.”

“Overall morale was tremendous and everyone is extremely proud of Ayoba 2010,” agrees Pieter. This year a four-legged, wet-nosed team mascot joined the gang in the form of Erika’s new German Pointer puppy, named Milla.

Keeping our eye on the ball

In conclusion here are a few general observations from our exhausted, but elated team…

 Erika: “It was without doubt a tricky harvest with plenty of long hours. But after tasting the wines in the fermentation tanks I can happily say it was worth every drop of sweat. If I had to compare it to a previous vintage I’d say it appears very similar to 2007. Soft tannins, excellent fruit and most likely one of the top vintages I’ve had the privilege of being part of.”

Irene: “I can’t wait to share a glass of 2010 Graham Beck with you!”

Marco: “Mmmm. Yum!

Pieter: “Only time will tell how the 2010 vintage pans out, but all indicators at this stage point to a blockbuster year – truly one for the books.”

 Ayoba, ayoba!

Well, the final whistle may have blown on harvest 2010, but the teams are still hard at work fine tuning their moves and upping their game. Winemaking is a continual process of refinement, evolution and enrichment and at Graham Beck Wines we’re more than up to the challenge. So, blow those vuvuzelas as we celebrate yet another vintage with vooma!

 Cheers from Graham Beck Wines


Southern Africa Direct : News & Reviews : Graham Beck Brut sees rise in sales following Obama's toast

Southern Africa Direct : News & Reviews : Graham Beck Brut sees rise in sales following Obama’s toast.

South African Sparklers – International Wine Review

South African Sparklers – International Wine Review.

A meeting on the QM2!

An email received from Doug Walker from Sydney, Australia


Attention Pieter Ferreira

Dear Peter, I was on the QM2 and met you and Anne< you suggested that I

go and see the amazing Caroline Rillema, Queen of Long street. I did and her cellar is as

good as I have ever seen. anywhere. I walked in and said, Pieter sent me.

She replied, so he should, I sell lots of his wine, so he owes me.

The conversation carried on in this vein for over and hour and I left richer in

knowledge but much poorer in the wallet.

This was the best experience I had in beautiful Cape Town, so thanks.

Please go to Google and look up The Wine Society, here in Sydney

I think it would be a good fit for you. If there is anything I can do to assist

you in Australia, please don’t hesitate to ask. Your wine tasting was excellent and its

always great to meet people with such a passion, about what they do and love.

Also an excellent Web site. I am glad to know that Graham is. as we say ” travelling OK’

The QM2 id doing Capetown to Sydney in February 2012, maybe you and

Michael could arrange a tour and a tasting at the vineyard before they

leave , I am sure you have thought of this, The Wine Society, was founded in

1946 and has 100,000+ members. Would you like me to send you our

current wine list?


Doug Walker.

With the passing of Ross Gower, the Wine Industry has lost a good man

30 March 2010  by Allan Mullins
Ross was larger than life in so many ways. He was an immensely talented and successful Winemaker and was highly respected by all his peers, both locally and internationally.
He was a man of great integrity, honesty and strength of character, thoroughly enjoyed a party and was enormously good company. His sense of humour and zest for life made him a sought after companion at any social gathering. Above all he was a loving family man to whom his wife, Sally, and sons, Robbie, James and Doug, meant the world.

As a friend wrote in memory of Ross:
“The sound of your laughter is echoing through the vineyards tonight. Friendship is a gift you mastered to perfection, your glass was never half full, nor was the glass of those in your company, not just brimming with wine but with kindness, generosity and words of advice. You have left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew you.”

Ross was born in Bloemfontein, younger brother to much loved sister Sandy. After attending Grey Junior he completed his schooling at SACS High School in Cape Town where he excelled at rugby and gymnastics.

Having decided at age thirteen to become a Winemaker, he enrolled and qualified at Elsenberg. He then got a job at Nederburg Winery, where he worked under the legendary Gunther Brzel. He was integral in assisting Gunther in developing the famous Nederburg Edelkeur.

From there he went to Germany where he studied at Weinsberg Wine School. Ross has retained valuable German contacts, many of whom have become close family friends. In 1980, the year that he and Sally got married, he was headhunted by Corbans Winery in New Zealand where he made a lasting impression and was promoted to head Winemaker during the three years he spent there. His two eldest sons were both born there and have both subsequently been welcomed back to study and work.

While in New Zealand, Ross was sought out by Duggie Jooste to become the Winemaker at his newly purchased Constantia estate – Klein Constantia. His first vintage in 1986 was widely hailed and his initial wines immediately reaped a bushel of praise and awards, and this recognition of his skill and talent continued throughout his Winemaking career. His 1986 Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are still regarded as benchmarks in the evolution of South African wines. During his 19 year tenure as Klein Constantia Winemaker he added Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz and Marlbrook, a red Bordeaux blend, to his stable of wines.

Perhaps one of Ross’ proudest achievements was his Vin de Constance which signalled the renaissance of the legendary 18th and 19th century Constantia. This wine had been much sought after by luminaries such as Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Bismarck and the kings of France and England and written about by the likes of Charles Dickens, Baudelaire and Jane Austen. After intensive research and keeping as close as possible to the original formula, Ross made his wine from extremely ripe, raisin-like Muscat de Frontignac grapes, one of the varieties which had been used in the original Constantia wine. This excellent sweet and luscious wine has gained international recognition to the extent that a book Vin de Constance has been written about it.

In 2003 Ross left Klein Constantia and he, Sally and the boys bought a neglected apple farm, Glen Stuart in the Elgin Valley and set about turning it into their own piece of wine heaven. Ross’ life took on new meaning as he and his family set about planting vineyards and building a winery. Through hard work, dedication and perseverance, the family made Ross Gower wines an established and highly respected brand.

Ross always loved a fine glass of bubbly and was quoted as saying: “I firmly believe that Elgin is a superb area for Mthode Cap Classique”. How right he was as his Pinot Noir Brut 2006 and 2007 have become runaway successes. It was no surprise that in the WINE Magazine’s 2009 Cap Classique Challenge his 2007 was chosen as the best Ros.

Ross made numerous visits to the wine countries of the world and those of us who travelled with him found him to be a delightful companion, always combining his sense of fun with an eager thirst for knowledge. He became an overnight legend in the Loire wine village of Sancerre by doing handstands around the main square of the village.

Some of Ross’ Quotes:

A wine is like a child, one needs to nurse it with great care and love

If you don’t love what you are doing, it will be the first thing to show in the wine

The most extreme thing I have done for the love of wine is starting a winery of my own, but probably selling a kidney would have been easier

If I could have any meal in the world to accompany my favourite wine, I would request something prepared by the late Frank Swainston – but the food is only one aspect, it is the people that make it memorable

If I could invite any person to a wine tasting at my winery I would invite Madame Bollinger, because I admire her tenacity and style in creating the Bollinger brand and more importantly – hopefully – she would bring a couple of bottles of her R.D. (ps – Ross called his rubber duck R.D.!)

At my interview for my job at Nederburg Gunther Brzel looked at me in my suit and told me there were no suits in their environment – I knew then that winemaking was for me

There is not much I dislike about winemaking – other than the paperwork and admin but luckily I have sons to now do this for me

Often Wine Judges follow fashion but one has to have a full glass or two to see that these wines often have no substance – I make wines to be enjoyed in small and larger quantities

My greatest pleasure is relaxing with a long lunch, good company, good music – and of course, great wines

I could not my job without my loving wife Sally who is my biggest fan, consumer…and critic

Rosco, my dear friend – I will always remember you.
Cheers, until the time that we crack our next bottle together.