Having examined the importance of both terroir and vineyard management in our series on The Art of Winemaking, we now turn to the harvest.
Despite all the care taken in establishing a vineyard, much still depends on the weather experienced during the growth and ripening periods of a given vintage as well as on the decisions made with regard to the harvest date of each block. These factors are crucial in determining the quality, structure and character of the resulting wine.
The Perfect Balance
As each individual grape approaches ripeness, there are a number of processes underway as various reactions take place. With the help of a healthy canopy, sugar levels are rising while acid levels are slowly dropping and the fruit is becoming noticeably sweeter. Sugar levels are important because they determine the potential alcohol of the wine (yeast converts sugar to alcohol and CO2 during primary fermentation). Acid retention is as important as it imparts freshness to the wine and balances the sugar, tannin and alcohol. It is thus desirable to have healthy levels of natural acidity at harvest, preventing the need for added tartaric acid which can make wine seem hard and flat. Grapes which are harvested too late may lack acidity making the wine seem jammy and overripe.
At the same time ample sunlight is required to promote the development of the various tannins in the skin, stem and seed of the berry – this is known as phenolic ripeness. If the wine accumulates sugar too quickly and acid levels drop rapidly as might happen in a very hot vintage, the grape may be harvested before phenolic ripeness has been reached (to control alcohol and retain acidity) and the wine could exhibit ‘stemmy’ or green notes – literally under-ripe. These different elements as well as others in the raw product are the base for reactions which take place during fermentation and maturation, and heavily influence the flavour compounds that form in the final product.
The aim of the winemaker is to manage the vineyard throughout the growth and ripening periods to encourage these processes to take place at a complementary pace. Ideally there should come a point at which the sugar and acid levels are in balance and the grape has reached full phenolic ripeness. The art of winemaking requires the winemaker to identify this point as the perfect time to harvest, at which point there is a frantic push to get the grapes into the cellar as quickly as possible.
Harvest at Creation Wines
The temperate conditions on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge are favourable for producing good quality fruit with less extreme vintage variation. The meso-climate on the estate’s vineyard sites further improves upon conditions because of the continentality afforded by the 290 m elevation above sea level. This influences the diurnal range of the estate vineyards on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, the highest of the three wards of the Hemel-en-Aarde in Walker Bay, where the cool night index is 12° C lower than the daytime temperature.
The various slope aspects of Creation’s vineyards have allowed for exacting placement of cultivars in relation to the sunlight available on each site, maximising it with row direction. Combine this with the fact that grapes travel no more than five minutes from being harvested in our estate vineyards (usually in the cool early morning) to the cellar, and are hand-picked and transported in small crates to prevent damage, and it is no wonder that Creation consistently produces award-winning wines of rare balance, elegance, distinction and finesse.
One of the key concepts of wine appreciation, vintage variation is understood to be the noticeable differences in flavour and structure of the same wine, from the same vineyard, as perceived over different vintages due to different conditions experienced in the development of the grapes used to make the wine each year.
Through the processes above it is explained how hot, dry conditions one year might produce a very different wine from a growth period that was wet and cold. This also determines to a large extent how harvest and vineyard management decisions (and sometimes compromises) were made during that vintage and why some years are considered better vintages than others. A great vintage is one in which a given area experienced perfect conditions for healthy grapes producing consistently high quality wines from a number of producers.