Northern Cape 2020
“The Northern Cape region experienced an average 2020 season in terms of yields per hectare and was characterised by good quality wines produced at acceptable volumes in the cellar,” says Henning Burger, viticulturist at Orange River Cellars.
The harvest season kicked off at least seven days earlier but continued without an exceptional peak. The region was grateful for a good and blessed year, despite problems with ESCOM’s electricity supply during the mid-peak period.
Almost the entire 2020 harvest was taken in before the COVID-19 lockdown on 26 March 2020, although the lockdown had an impact on the remaining processes in the cellar. However, these challenges were overcome by good management and hard work by the wine-makers to attend to the wines with the minimal help.
Orange River Cellars – that harvests the majority of the region’s grapes – produced a somewhat smaller harvest than in 2019. This was partly due to frost damage which occurred towards the end of October 2019. The 2019 harvest was also exceptionally good. All wine grape cultivars produced lower yields per hectare than in 2019.
CLIMATE AND VITICULTURAL TRENDS
The vineyards in the Northern Cape region were healthy during the post-harvest period with no occurrence of diseases. The warm temperature continued until late in May, which resulted particularly in limited regrowth of vigorous blocks. The first real frost only occurred late in May this year. Vineyards were also pruned at least two weeks later than usual.
The number of cold units which were accumulate by June, were significantly lower than the corresponding time in 2018. The total cold units for the entire winter period until the end of August were also lower than in the previous year. It was evident after leaf fall and during the pruning stage that grape bearing shoots ripened optimally and were available in sufficient amounts for the use in cultivars pruned with long-bearers. It was cold until the end of August with day and night temperatures starting to increase gradually from the beginning of September.
The vineyards started budding from 7 September – around five to seven days earlier than the previous season. This tendency was partly driven by warm day and night temperatures during the first half of September. At times the temperatures dropped suddenly and increased again gradually as required by the many cold fronts that occurred during September throughout the Western Cape.
The vineyards had even bud burst and mostly all cultivars showed a good budding percentage. The bunches were abundant which brought on a positive prospect for a good 2020 harvest. However, wide-spread frost damage occurred at the end of October – in particular in the low-situated vineyards, east of Upington.
The vineyards were healthy and vigorous until the end of January, despite more than 75 mm of rain that occurred during mid-December in the Upington area. However, regular wide-spread rain during February resulted in rot and also resulted in limited crop losses.
Fortunately the region didn’t have any water shortages during the 2020 season, since the dam systems in the Orange-Vaal System were filled up more than 70%.
GRAPE AND WINE QUALITY
The quality of the grapes was excellent, with good acidity and pH levels up until the end of February. Unfortunately the regular rainfall during this month resulted in uneven quality due to rot.
Healthy grapes which were produced under good, more moderate climate conditions and lower yields than in the 2019 season, are reflected in beautifully balanced wines. The colour development in the red cultivars was consistently good as a result of the lower than normal temperatures which occurred during phase 2 of the berry development cycle.
The alcohol levels were higher than the previous year – partly ascribed to the increase in sugar grading for white wine grapes as well as the fact that the harvest was smaller this year than in 2019. Juice recoveries were consistently good at all the cellars, with an average recovery of 785 litres per ton. Both early Chenin Blanc and Colombar grapes that were received and processed in 2020, are showing excellent quality.
Published with permission from WoSA