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