Monday, 9 April marks the official closing of the 2018 harvest here at De Toren Private Cellar. This season was once again a marvellous opportunity to observe how complex Mother Nature is in all her workings.
In many senses the vintage challenged our understanding of how multifaceted the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum is. Especially when it came to the moisture levels of the soil, which was fairly lower than the previous seasons. The little rainfall we had did unfortunately not succeed in saturating the soil water profile. The stringent water restrictions throughout the Western Cape soon followed this dry winter and as a result our allowance was reduced to a mere 30% of our normal allocation, dedicated to irrigating our vineyards. The only way to succeed was to adapt. Fortunately, we made provision for this very situation. More than a year ago already, we started conceptualising a very concise strategy, planning everything very methodically, down to the very last detail. (Read my previous article on our Drought Strategy)
The general temperature rise during the beginning to mid of February was another concern. Miraculously, like time and time again, nature provided and the season turned during these last two weeks of February. Daytime temperatures became mild to cool, we even had 30mm of rain which helped a little in alleviating the strain on our vines a little, and we also had daily dew on the leaves due to the cold evenings. These conditions culminated in a perfect scenario for that final accumulation of berry phenolics and berry concentration across all our cultivars. (For more info on the influencing seasonal factors, read my 2018 Vintage Update)
Herewith an overview of each individual cultivar from the 2018 harvest:
Harvest officially commenced on Thursday, 1 March at the break of dawn. The first grapes to be harvested were our Shiraz grapes from the Swartland region for our iconic The Black Lion Shiraz. The uniqueness of these berries was in the concentration and the bunch size or weight. All the berries were extremely well balanced and concentrated with an array of flavours, aroma and structure. To allow the beauty of these grapes to be expressed, the most vibrant, complex grapes were individually hand-selected and hand-destemmed, and were treated to minimal interference winemaking, conducted in small French oak barrels. This bunches also only weighed 60 -100g each, compared to their normal weight of about 150 -200g. To make provision for the expected volume loss, on the already small volumes (merely 1000 per vintage) of The Black Lion, we had to prepare beforehand and consequently made the decision to grow a mere 6 bunches per single vine this season, instead of the usual 4 bunches. Our plan succeeded! The berries are out of this world – with its phenomenal aroma and depth of flavour, it will perfectly impart the identity of this vintage in the 2018 blend of this renowned Shiraz.
Next to follow was the harvesting of the Merlots. The cultivar surprised me most pleasantly this season, since it is generally well known for its sensitivity towards low soil moisture and high atmospheric temperatures. The physical plant-water status that we continuously measure with the help of a cherished tool, better known as the pressure bomb, were indicating that the plants were at the upper levels of restraint. (Read Assistant Winemaker Martin’s article here on how we use this tool to spare our most valuable commodity, i.e. water) The amazing part however was, the expected strain was not visible in the physical characteristics of these vineyards’ canopies or grapes at all. Having been surrounded by these vines for the past 9 years, I truly believed I have seen it all and was therefore delighted by this outcome, to say the least. The grapes acquired phenolic maturity slowly but surely, and the wines delivered from these berries were lean, well defined and the purest expression of Merlot! Keep an eye out, in about 2 years’ time, for the 2018 vintage of our Merlot-dominant Bordeaux-style blend, De Toren Z…
Next to arrive at the cellar were the Cabernet Francs from the De Toren Fusion V vineyards. Being situated on a Westerly slope where the sun sets, the vines are exposed to more sun for a longer period of time during the day. During our pre-season planning and the canopy management happening concurrently, we worked 30% more conservative in the bunch zones with regards to leave removal. Why you may ask? Since we knew the vines would naturally shed some leaves during season in response to its water restraint. The end result in March were perfectly exposed berries with absolutely no sunburn, phenomenal concentration and desirable freshness. The wines from these vineyards are remarkably elegant, pure and just the perfect amount of lean.
Malbec occupies a very special place in my heart and you will often hear me say that this variety “ads the X-factor to our wines.” It was a little unfortunate that the cape winelands experienced some strong wind spells during this season, just as our Malbec were in full bloom. This reduced the crop of the Malbec a bit, but fortunately every dark cloud has a silver lining… The reduced berry set acted as natural crop control and although the yield was reduced quite a bit, the remaining berries had all the attention and resources of the vines squarely focussed on them. The result? Complex berries that provided for full-bodied, immensely flavoursome wine – I couldn’t have asked for anything more…
Cabernet Sauvignon…The saying goes “Cab is King” and it’s vintages like this that makes it abundantly clear why that saying exists. This cultivar is known for its ability to withstand much higher levels of soil and climatic restraint and even has the potential to thrive under these conditions. The wines from the De Toren Fusion V vineyards are classic old world Cabernet Sauvignon with amazing depth, fine tannin structure and perfect restraint – true noblemen. The wines made from our South facing vineyards are beautiful and perfect for our Merlot-dominated Bordeaux-style blend, De Toren Z! Having benefited from slightly cooler bunch microclimates during a slightly warmer year, these wines express purity and intensity, both on the nose and on the palate.
Last but most definitely not least, Petit Verdot… These grapes really tested our patience – but all for the love of fantastic wines, right? The final ripening stages of these berries were only at the end of March, when the season had already turned and the temperatures were much cooler than the preceding months. By then the vines have already lost about 40% of its basal leaves. Thus, the berries slowly reached a crescendo of flavour, aroma and great structure and it is wonderful to now experience these desirable characteristics in the wine too!
So, to summarise the 2018 vintage… Despite some of the challenges we foresaw, our meticulous pre-season and harvest planning helped us a great deal to overcome any and every obstacle, with more ease than I envisioned. The 2018 vintage from De Toren will be known for its vibrancy, its elegance, the true varietal expression with its underlying density and loads of personality to finish it off. With ease of mind, I can genuinely say I look forward to releasing this vintage to you, our valued clients, after completion of the very important processes of barrel and bottle maturation…