Bellingham winemaker Richard Duckitt’s eager anticipation of the 2019 wine crop, the first grapes of which are beginning to trickle into the cellar, is contagious. Richard is especially excited about the white wines and Sauvignon Blanc in particular, given the high acidities of grapes after a relatively cool growing season.
Following a debilitating drought of almost four years, the winter of 2018 brought much-needed relief to the Western Cape Winelands and according to Bellingham viticulturist Heinie Nel, the good rains have allowed the vineyards to recover somewhat. “We are seeing lighter bunches though, which is probably a lingering effect of the drought, and uneven ripening due to the cool conditions we have experienced in the lead-up to harvest. This is something we will have to manage meticulously in the vineyard and cellar, but the quality is looking superb at this early stage.”
The uneven ripening means Richard and his team will probably have to wait a little longer than usual for some varieties to ripen, with only some early batches of Chardonnay and Verdelho received so far. In the meantime, they are ensuring that all the cellar equipment is in perfect working condition and processes streamlined to ensure that Harvest 2019 runs smoothly. “This year we will really be looking at ways to improve all our cellar practices, while also experimenting with some new winemaking techniques and technology. This includes new fermentation processes and small-batch fermentation in special new concrete tanks.”
The moderate spring and summer thus far, and especially the cool nights, bode well for the quality of the 2019 vintage, adds Richard. The high acidities mean lower pH levels in the fruit, resulting in more stable wines with freshness and purity. He singles out Sauvignon Blanc as a grape that should really thrive under the cooler ripening conditions – a variety that Bellingham has excelled within recent times, winning a coveted FNB Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc prize last year for the Bellingham Sauvignon Blanc.
If the uneven ripening remains as was also the case in 2018, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes will be picked at three different stages of ripeness. The first batch early at lower alcohol, with a tight, bracing acidity for freshness and vibrancy, while the two later harvests add more ripe fruit definition and richness on the palate in the eventual wine. In the cellar, the whole winemaking process is treated very reductively, that is with limited exposure to oxygen, to protect the vibrant, fresh fruit character of the grapes.
According to Richard, it is not only the white wines that should benefit from the cooler growing temperatures, but also the reds, which promise to be elegant and well balanced. Experience has taught him that nature can be unpredictable at best, however, making it difficult to predict the outcome of harvest at the start. But, he says, if the ideal moderate conditions continue, wine lovers can expect some very memorable wines from the 2019 vintage.