Still finding ourselves amidst a world pandemic, there is no doubt that the past season has been a rather challenging one, not only for the De Toren team but for many countries, businesses and people around the world. During the 2021 vintage, there were however many moments where we were so incredibly thankful for the way we do and have been doing things here at De Toren Private Cellar. Always thinking ahead, pre-empting the various possible scenarios and planning the necessary strategy down to the finest detail. Our extraordinary 2021 vintage is in every sense the rewarding result of just this!
We, at De Toren, could not have asked for a more exceptional start to the 2021 season. Ample amounts of rain received during the winter season, totalling the rainfall from July to August at 432mm – our soils just soaked up every inch of this life-giving moisture. Needless to say, thankfulness overwhelmed us, especially taking into account the severe drought conditions South Africa faced the past couple of years, and which remains in some parts of the country.
During the winter months, our main focus was the further development of our soil health and the rejuvenation of our vineyards. In order to keep our vineyards healthy and sustainable, we actively removed any vines that showcased the slightest potential of disease during this time of year. Early August, our pruning actions finally commenced in the vineyard. This is a critical part, as pruning sets the tone for the quality to be achieved long after the pruning process has been completed. Actioned by merely four of our highly trained vineyard ladies, each vine was meticulously pruned to allow for the ideal number of shoots and grapes to be sustained when growing season arrives.
Fast-forwarding a bit, our season truly commenced in September during which we experienced a slight delay in budburst. We had 84mm of rain during this time where it is usually averaged at 35mm when compared to previous years. Apart from facing a much wetter winter and spring period, the overall temperatures were also quite a bit cooler than what we experienced during the previous six seasons. Hence, all this, ultimately gave way to the budburst delay during the growing season caused by these lower temperatures and more importantly the colder soil temperatures endured. With our vines constantly being hydrated by the seasonal rainfall, this phase took between 10 to 14 days longer due to these colder conditions. This was the first indication that we would most possibly commence and finalize harvest a bit later than we have in previous seasons.
Overall the vine canopies looked fantastic during the growing season. However, the general Stellenbosch region faced rather great likelihoods of developing possible downy mildew during this period due to the higher than usual rainfall received in the area. With 57mm rain on the estate from the 6th to the 8th of November, we had to react fast, but with great caution and excellent timing of when the necessary spraying would be initialised within our vineyards. This enabled us to maintain the high quality of our vineyards at the beginning of harvest. Again, our strategies for implementation were fortunately in place due to the copious amount of upfront planning for all possible scenarios – thanks to the De Toren way.
Seeing how the implementation of our organic principles have paid off both in the vineyards and in the estate’s ecosystem during the 2021 season especially, was very pleasing. Our vineyard health, and more importantly, our grape health was maintained at a very high standard from start to finish in a year that has been perceived to be very challenging, even for commercial farmers. Thus, we firmly believe and can now with confidence say that our organic farming practices are indeed increasing our vines’ so-called ‘immune system’ and their general vitality, allowing us to ultimately deliver the highest quality grapes for our exceptional red blends.
Stretching from January to March, the ripening phase commenced and the temperatures were truly ideal for growing only the highest quality grapes. We enjoyed moderate temperatures of between 20°C to 25°C for the majority of this period with little to no rainfall. This essentially allowed for the grapes to ripen slower, developing higher and more concentrated sugar levels whilst phenolics started to increase slowly. Furthermore, the cooler temperatures enhanced the colour development of the grape skins, a result that will ultimately be seen in the glass when savouring the 2021 vintage of our bespoke De Toren wines.
In January, we aspired towards only adding further quality to our De Toren grapes by implementing green harvesting practices. In other words, keeping only the best bunches on the vine and removing the more inferior ones. This is determined by the vines’ shoot length and the bunch sizes. The remaining, best quality bunches are then left to further develop and eventually, harvested. This high-end craftsmanship allows us to not only achieve the highest quality grapes within our vineyards, but also enables us to produce the highest quality red blends in the end. During this period, final leaf or canopy management was implemented. This entails the removal of selected leaves in the bunch areas or zones to increase sun exposure on certain grape bunches to enhance the ripening thereof.
Finally, on the 25th of February, our harvest season officially kicked off, starting with the harvest of our Shiraz grapes from the Swartland vineyard for our ultra-luxurious, 100% Shiraz blend, The Black Lion. This region, known for its rather warm, dry climate during summer months, also endured a cooler growing season, which meant excellent quality grapes! Not too long after we harvested the grapes from these vineyards, followed the harvest in the vineyards on the De Toren estate itself. Starting with the Merlots for our renowned De Toren Z and De Toren Fusion V wines on the 2nd of March, and eventually ending off harvest by bringing in the last Petit Verdot bunches into the cellar on the 30th of March. Harvest was thus later than previous season’s but way more compact and so to say ‘short and sweet’. With receiving rain this late in the season, harvest was slowed down, but luckily only a bit. However, with the weather clearing up and a few warmer days in middle to late March, our grapes were once again on track to perfection, with an even better concentration than before. Once in the cellar, we noticed the wine shows off its immense colours, even after only one day. As previously mentioned, this is characteristic of a cooler vintage with more colour being formed within the grapes.
Although harvest has been concluded, our work in the vineyards doesn’t stop as we continue with post-harvest irrigation and final leaf spray. This is done by using a mix of beneficial Thricoderma and good bacteria which will help our vineyards build up the necessary nutrients and reserves for the next season’s budding period. Soil preparation for the cover crops is also taking place as we are writing this report. This time of year we mainly focus on improving our Microbial bacteria life in our soils which in turn will make all nutrients more accessible to our De Toren vines.
In conclusion, we can in all honesty say that the 2021 season’s conditions ultimately allowed the De Toren grapes to mature to perfection at a slow and steady rate. This allowed us the fortunate opportunity of harvesting each and every parcel of grapes at the very peak of complexity, without any other elements or factors influencing the decision. The saying “slow and steady wins the race” became the motto for our 2021 vintage.