Around the globe, the vintage of 2021 will certainly be known and remembered for decades to come. This particular harvest came with a sufficient amount of challenges and we can almost say that the vineyards were the last cause of this stress… The notorious culprit then? Covid – need we say more? From adhering to the required regulations to implementing all the necessary safety measures and working around restrictions with a very limited team and of course, the much dreaded SA alcohol sales ban consuming nearly 20 weeks of the year! At De Toren, we believe that three things separate a good vintage from an excellent vintage, and that is quality, flavour, depth and the fourth now being the achievement of all that during a pandemic. We salute our team for doing exactly that!
We experienced a particularly late season when comparing it to the seasons of 2015 – 2020, with some correlation between 2019 and 2021. The 2021 vintage was however more compact and demanding in terms of tempo and harvest slightly delayed due to the increased rainfall. As a result, harvesting on some days was not possible even further compressing an already compact season. On the other hand, this also allowed us to harvest some lots slightly later, achieving a softer palleted wine with much darker berry, black currant and black cherry notes while also harvesting other lots just before the rain to bring in fresher and livelier cultivar characters. This all meant we had to simply work and plan even smarter and more effective than before. The extraordinary quality of the grapes, fortunately, helped save an enormous amount of time during the sorting and destemming phase, expediting this process just enough.
The temperatures during this season were much more moderate and the ample amount of rain influenced the ripening season. The increased rainfall resulted in slightly lower alcohol wines due to the fact that rain gets absorbed by the vines which ultimately result in the grapes causing a dilution effect, lowering sugar content and thus also reducing alcohol content. This entails quite a comprehensive management factor, as we would lose some days of harvesting to monitor the vines, and then had to make up time whilst still ensuring the achievement of phenomenal quality. Without the devotion from our remarkable team and excellent communication between all parties, this would not have been possible. We had to monitor the lower alcohol content in the wines very closely, but knowing what I know now, I can say with 100% confidence that the wines are very well-balanced with superb fruit sweetness to round it off perfectly. Compared to preceding vintages, somewhat drier tannins were observed during the fermentation phase, but have mostly subsided, only retaining some of the slight “grippier” structure which conclusively adds to the overall vintage personality.
The colour development from juice to fermenting wine also stood out as a unique vintage characteristic. By the second day of fermentation, the must already showcased deep, intense red- purple hues. This especially occurs so soon when there is a big diurnal temperature difference. The unique topography of our De Toren Z vineyards which overlooks False Bay, benefitted even greater.
Overall the wines of the 2021 vintage have exceptionally good natural acidity with a slightly bigger tannin structure which will extend the ageing potential of the wines, enhancing the pronounced aromatics to be experienced when enjoying these wines.
Below we take a closer look at each of the varietals from this season:
De Toren’s 2021 harvest officially kick-started with the hand-picking of our Shiraz grapes from our Swartland vineyard, which makes up part of our opulent The Black Lion wine. Interestingly enough, The Black Lion grapes were harvested at the exact same time as the past four years. The warmer weather conditions experienced in this region, especially during January and February, aided the final ripening of the tannins while also dehydrating our grapes between 10 – 15%, resulting in the end wine being far more concentrated. As previously mentioned, this was a slightly cooler season with more moderate temperatures, allowing us to harvest this part in three different sections while keeping true to the style. We produced a slightly more aromatic part which was harvested first, from a traditionally elegant section. Seven days later we brought in another lot of grapes from this same vineyard showcasing a lot of power, bolder tannins and a heavier presence. In our Stellenbosch based Shiraz vineyard, we focussed on retaining acidity and fruit expression to complement the richness of the Swartland vineyard block.
The harvesting of our Merlot grapes followed in our De Toren vineyard on the estate. De Toren has eight lots of Merlot in total. Some allocated to our iconic De Toren Fusion V wine and others to our acclaimed De Toren Z wine – all divided in their respective terroirs of course. The De Toren Z lots ripened first and received relatively less rain than the De Toren Fusion V lots. This worked out perfectly seeing that we wanted the darker fruit expressed from the Merlot when blending the De Toren Z. All the Merlots came in with an excellent, well-balanced amount of acidity and lower pH measurements, ensuring the prolonged ageing potential of the 2021 vintage wines.
Next was our Malbec grapes. These beauties turned out with a multi-dimensional aromatic bouquet. We have always firmly believed that Malbec needs time in the barrel, so to this end we focussed on getting the wine into the oak barrels as soon as possible. Some Malbec vineyard blocks had slightly drier tannins which we will be monitoring monthly, from now until blending, during a process known as racking – a method of introducing some oxygen into the wine which in turn will soften the tannins to achieve the optimal tannin structure profile.
Our Cabernet Franc grapes had a much slower ripening period and therefore enjoyed a longer hanging time in the vineyards. These vineyards and grapes provided us with brilliantly bright red fruit expressions, expected to liven up our Bordeaux-style blends and help achieve the perfect balance.
The Cabernet Sauvignon came out with gratifying, yet firm tannins. These grapes were harvested at the most precise time and while all the other wines did not long any immediate treatment, the Cabernet Sauvignon got our full attention.
Finally, we concluded harvest with our Petit Verdot grapes. This cultivar is where a little goes a long way and with its most appealing violet aromas, this was unequivocally favoured by this more moderate 2021 vintage.
All in all, this season certainly didn’t come without its fair share of challenges, yet we managed to conquer each obstacle as a team and even learned a few valuable things ensuring further advances and refinements across the board to bring you, our valued clients, exceptional wines vintage after vintage.