January 2016 - A Harvest for Jenga


16 February 2016

As I write this piece it has been raining since about 2 o'clock this morning on the 25 of January, the first rain for some incredibly long period. Our poor vines have been through so much for the last 2 years as the drought has been crippling them, but it is amazing to see how they hold on and want to deliver their best.

It is so important in May of every year that the vines receive cold weather, coupled with rain to let the vines go into their winter rest and build up reserves for the following year's harvest. Well for the past 2 years we have not had cold May months and the results can now be seen. This past winter we could not even begin pruning until late July as the vines had not gone into their rest period and the first signs thereof is the fact that the leaves had not all fallen off. The old farmers, who all lived very close to their vines, when asked how has the winter been would answer. " we have had a wonderful early and even leaf fall" which meant that the vines had gone early peacefully into their deep winter sleep which they require having produced the fruit required for the making of the wine.

For the 20 years that I have been farming, it is the first time that our dams have not been filled by the winter rains and the drainage pipes of certain blocks did not even ooze their normal drainage water from the roots of the various vineyard blocks, It is by far the driest that it has ever been on our farm. Is the weather changing? I do not know but we are trying our best to do sustainable farming that will hopefully allow the following generations to also ply their trade as wine farmers. As the saying goes " the dear Lord provides, we on earth can only care!"

We started harvesting on the 11th of January which is also the earliest that we have ever started harvesting on Welbedacht. The dry land bush vines have taken a hammering, just to think if we get hot we move into shade or put on an air conditioner but these wonderful, some 50 years old, vines can go nowhere and are as such the product of their close environment, from there the importance of terroir. If you are an Estate and you can only use the fruit off your own farm to make wine. Well back to the Chenin, the berries are the smallest that I have ever seen them, the crop very small, but low and behold when we had a look at the chemistry it revealed the following; Sugar 23,5 balling, 3,05 PH and an acid of 9,1! What great fruit for barrel fermentation. Well, while the Chenin is busy fermenting in their barrels we brought in the Pinot Noir and the bush vine Pinotage. Also small berries and very clean red fruit flavours and we will have to work very softly with the fruit this year to get the best out of it.

Today we were going to pick Chardonnay and Chenin for ourselves and Mouvedre and Cinsaut for a good client of ours which goes into a very unique rose blend. With the rain around, it will not happen although if it stops raining we will try out our mechanical harvester which I repaired on Saturday and we in future will have to use more and more as the labour problems, especially the productivity, is not improving. Unluckily you cannot pick the grapes of a bush vine with a mechanical harvester.

Starting up the cellar after last year's harvest is always a challenge and there are always some niggling issues and this year we just could not get our chiller to operate optimally but our solid supplier eventually got it going and the chiller is working well although battling with the past weeks' very high ambient temperatures.

To make the farm even a further bees nest we had a nearly 200 Barmy Army supporters the day after the Test ended at Newlands, brought to Welbedacht by my good friend Allan Lamb of English cricketing fame, to have a wine tasting as well as a cellar tour coupled to lunch with crayfish as starter and then a few sheep and wild boar on a spit which was really enjoyed by all. This was all taking place while we were starting up the cellar. Never easy to do but enjoyable and I think we made a lot of good friends for our Estate and wines that will help The Sporting Wine Club, our agents in the UK hopefully to sell even more wine. Many of them are wanting to come and play cricket in the future on our cricket oval. Talking of which we have had to reduce the amount of irrigation due to the low levels of our dams and having to save all our water for the vines. It will also seem that we will shortly be reduced with the amount of water we are allowed to pump out of the Berg River, water I believe, is going to become the most important commodity in our country.

Well I am also rather sad as it is the first harvest in the 10 years of our cellar that not one of my beloved Sharpei dogs will be helping me with the harvest as both Ghia and Jenga have passed away. They would diligently lie in wait of their boss to finish in the cellar until the early hours of the morning watching every tractor load being off loaded, the press being filled and cleaned and the doors eventually locked and then lead me home for a well-deserved meal and rest.  Then one day as I sat in my office Jenga, or Mugabe as he was affectionately called by all our visitors, as he did not mind have a pair of glasses put on his face for a photo shoot, a real character dog, came stumbling into the quad from the cellar, and walked straight into a tree with his head, banging it fiercely on the bark and then rolled over with his 4 legs in the air! Fearing the worst, like that he had eaten some yeast or chemicals I at great speed took him to the vet, while all the way cajoling him to hold on. After about 20 minutes of tests the vet finally came to the verdict that Jenga was only very drunk! This you could also smell on his breath. He had been eating the husks of Pinotage that we were being cleaned out of the press and had become intoxicated as they were 14% alcohol.

Funny as that year 2009 was our best year for Pinotage and we went on to win many awards, with both the Welbedacht and Meerkat 2009 Pinotage, Jenga knew that obviously and sadly this year his input will be missed.

Till we report again in February feel free to come and visit us on the farm or ask any questions you would like to, as we tackle the rest of 2016 harvest. 

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