With recent years’ exceptional vintages behind us, we prepared ourselves for an interesting 2018 vintage. During the course of this season, I was so thankful for the way we do and have been doing things here at De Toren. Always thinking ahead, planning the necessary strategy to its finest detail and most importantly, working with nature, not against it…
Herewith some of the biggest concerns for the 2018 vintage & how we, at De Toren, addressed it:
- Limited Rainfall: We usually rely on our cold, wet winters to fully saturate our soils to sustain our vines throughout the drier spring and warmer summer months. During this particular season the Western Cape province of South Africa, in which De Toren resides, has experienced the lowest rainfall in over a century, 50% less rain than usual. As a result, the irrigation water available to the farm was cut by 70% and we simply had to make do. Fortunately, De Toren has been water wise since its inception and uses significantly less water than the more commercial wineries, almost 50% less.With remarkable quality in mind, we employed an extensive strategy to ensure the most economic and concentrated use of our valuable water, limiting any evaporation, losses and wastage as far as possible. All the while protecting our vines to ensure optimal growth and ripening to craft our prised wines. Read my previous article on De Toren’s great water-wise approach, to accommodate these drastic water restrictions & ensure the delivery of yet another great vintage.
- Raised Temperatures: I had yet another element to be truly grateful for when it came to the expected increase in temperatures. The elevation of our vineyards, 100 – 200 metres above sea level with direct sight of the ocean, means we generally experience temperatures of about 2 – 3 degrees cooler than the surrounding areas. We therefore also have less variation in our seasonal circumstances, assisting us in achieving great vintage to vintage consistency. Even though the season’s temperatures were generally a bit higher, the cooling effects of the Southern wind we experience here on the farm, helps stimulate a very desirable micro-climate, perfect for growing great red wine grapes. The same could thus be said for fine wine production and great property investments – location, location, location!During June/ July 2017, we could already predict what the situation would be in January/ February 2018. This gave us the opportunity to duteously strategize quite accurately on exactly how each block of vineyard should be managed. We believe great wines are crafted in great vineyards – the 2018 vintage was no exception. Throughout the season we were constantly taking calculated risks, in November/ December 2017 already, we worked about 15% more conservative when dealing with the leave coverage in our bunch zones. Due to the predetermined effect of the water restraint in the plants, we decided to remove less leaves to make provision for the expected lower bunch leaves’ premature wilting and falling. These actions established a cooler micro-climate throughout veraison, very necessary for phenolic accumulation – concurrently the leaves did drop towards the end of January. This however allowed the bunches to be exposed to full sunlight, but by this time in a favourable meso-climate, once the season turned cooler, which is conducive towards high quality production.
It was once again magnificent to see how nature has the ability to regulate itself and how much more we actually have to learn about a vine’s ability. With the presence of these seasonal challenges the plants compensated by altering its vegetative and reproductive responses ever so slightly. The result for De Toren was an average of only 5% smaller canopies than previous years and a crop load reduction of merely 5 – 7% compared to the 2017 vintage.
We were not able to irrigate our vines with the exception of 3 short irrigations at flowering, veraison and partially some blocks in the beginning of February 2018. Our plant based moisture measuring system (called the “pressure BOM”), therefore reflected extreme limitations in terms of plant available water throughout the ripening process. Magnificently, this was however not reflected in the visual appearance of the vines and grapes or its intrinsic qualities. The one attribute of the season that one cannot plan for, but assuredly rely on, is to grow complex berries. This is the strongest driver of quality in the vineyards and our berries this vintage, embodies true complexity and balance.
During this past season, we have again learned and re-established the importance of preparation and planning. The combination of a meticulous plan, a highly capable team and a wonderful thing called nature, is phenomenal. The delightful result of this combination is what promises to be, yet another brilliant vintage!