“It is a lot better second time around.” -Vini Dawson
This year was our second harvest in the cellar, and it surely was a bit easier second time round. Not only was it better weather wise, but we were more familiar with the cellar, and we had, in a way, found our feet.
What a privilege it is to be the first to work in a new cellar. It’s sort of a blank canvas and every drop of wine to the floor tells a story. Every vintage adds a bit more character and stain to this canvas, until one day we will look back and see what beautiful art work we have been working on. 2015 was our first year to work the fruit in the Malgas cellar. We kind of fell into harvest and had to quickly manage the incoming of the fruit (which was on top of each other). To say the least, it was a challenging season.
2016 Harvest kicked off on the 21st of January (one day later than 2015) with our younger Chenin Blanc; Block 31. It was a cool morning and the grapes came in fresh, at a lovely 21,6 °B. Our white grapes were all picked within two weeks.
So you probably wonder what a typical morning in Harvest looks like at Sijnn?
Julie (our Foreman) picks up casual workers, at 5:30 am, from Nuwedorp to help us pick. Elizabeth, Magrieta and Julie, check that the picking runs smoothly. These three, together with the casual workers, do the sorting and the picking of the grapes in the vineyard. Once everything is picked into lug boxes, the boxes are transported by tractor (and by our latest edition to the farm, the red trailer) to the cellar. At the cellar, Harry and Isaac are ready to receive the grapes and process it. The presses are cleaned and the tanks are always ready before the grapes come in.
The white grapes are crushed into a bin and from that bin it is bucketed over to the presses and pressed into a settling barrel. After a day the barrel is then pumped into its’ more “permanent’ home, a fermentation barrel, where it will ferment, settle and age until bottling. The red grapes are destemmed and crushed into a tank. It ferments in the tank and we delestage or do punch downs, as needed. Once fermentation is done, we drain off the wine and fill up the basket presses. The red wine is then pushed with compressed air to a 225L barrel where it will undergo malolactic fermentation. After malolactic fermentation is done, the barrels are sulphured up, and wait to be blended together.
It is a very “easy” way of making wine, no buttons to push and no big machines taking over the process. It is handmade.
The ripening season was ideal, the grapes looked beautiful and most blocks were picked spot on. We had a few days in January and February, where it drizzled a bit, just enough to hydrate the grapes. (It is always a great concern when it rains during harvest, the grapes can easily rot if conditions are right.) The average temperatures were a high of 27°C and a low of 15°C, with only an extremely hot day here and there.
It felt like the perfect ripening season, but with these great conditions, most of the red grapes were ready to be picked at the same time. We picked our first block of Shiraz the 29th January, and continued to pick a Shiraz block almost every day, till 11 February. We usually pick one block of Shiraz a bit earlier, and the first batch came in at a 23.2°B. Tasting great, with a lot of fresh red berry-like fruits.
Next pick was the Tinta Amarella. We have to really time our picking with this cultivar. It is just one of those grapes where one day it looks great and the next, its’ over ripe. It came in at 22.5°B. Each year this cultivar surprise us in the cellar, with its beautiful intense fruity profile, yet not lacking any structure. The Touriga Nacional (Block 18,19,20) was picked 5th of February, coming in with a lot of dark fruit characters and a strong tannin structure. Our Mourvedre came in at a beautiful 23.2 balling, and they are looking exceptionally good this vintage. Characters of dusty earthy flavours yet fresh red/blackberries. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the last cultivar we pick. The grapes were looking good, with smaller berries. We always get great intensity and concentration from this cultivar.
A whole bunch of unbelievable breath-taking sunrises and extremely beautiful sunsets, and the 2016 harvest was over.
Focussing on the vineyards prior harvest is very important. We irrigated when it was needed, sprayed when we had to spray, and canopy management was done on time. As clichéd as it may sound, great wine is made in the vineyard. Droughts have been hitting South Africa, including parts of the Western Cape, but we have been fortunate enough not to have experienced it as intense as most other parts.
Comparing 2016 to 2015, there was definitely a bigger white crop in 2016 than 2015, but looking at the Reds of 2016, there was a significant lower yield in 2016.
|White 2015||White 2016|
|Red 2015||Red 2016|
|Tinta Amarella||4.2||Tinta Amarella||1.7|
|Touriga Nacional||6.8||Touriga Nacional||4.9|
|Cabernet Sauvignon||1.7||Cabernet Sauvignon||1.7|
When it comes to processing the grapes, we do not really have to “faff” around too much. We have a very simple and natural approach to winemaking. Although it is a very labour intensive process (we still use two old basket presses and we do not have a forklift, so basically everything gets done by the hand). We do not add much to the wine and we try and keep it simple, BUT, of a high standard. We only use barrels to ferment our white juice in. Here it settles and then ages in the barrel. The red grapes ferment in stainless steels tanks, (while we work on our concrete fermenting tanks) and then undergo malolactic fermentation in 225L barrels.
We played around in the cellar this year and did a very interesting skin contact fermentation, with a few kg’s of Chenin blanc. The flavour profile is something totally different, so appealing, and the palette, obviously, has more tannins than your regular white, but boy oh boy, it is gorgeous.
Another little project we kept ourselves busy with, was with our Roussanne. We only have half a hectare Roussanne and it usually only makes around two small barrels. We did a co-fermentation with Chenin blanc, and can’t wait to see what the final product is going to taste like.
What is next
We can already feel the seasons changing. The early mornings are not as light as a month ago and the chill in the morning breeze is definitely here. First, we will give everyone a little resting week to gain strength for the next chapter of the year. Then, there are some great things waiting for us. We will start preparing a few hectares which we will be planting on in the winter season of 2016. We have some exciting cultivars which we are going to play around with, Tempranillo, Grenache noir, Grenache Peluda, Roussanne, Petit manseng, Assyrtiko and Verdelho.