Between Monday and Thursday last week we had four days of temperatures in the vicinity of 40°C and above. Walking outside was like stepping into an oven. There was no escape from the heat. Sleep was almost impossible.
If this was a sneak preview of global warming it’s a scary future.
Of course, it’s not unusual for temperatures in the Western Cape to touch 40 degrees at various points between December and February. What made this so devastating was that the heat wave continued for four straight days, following on from several very hot days in the preceding week.
Oh, I forgot to mention that we’d started harvesting Pinotage grapes. Dozens of hectares of ripe Pinotage were hanging on the vines awaiting harvest. The pickers (spare a thought for them working in the heat) just couldn’t get there in time; even a team of 500 pickers couldn’t have brought the grapes in before they were beyond the pale.
By Friday, when winemaker Christopher van Dieren took me around the vineyards to show me the bunches of shrivelled berries, we’d lost the equivalent of approximately 150 tons of Pinotage (one ton produces about 650 litres of wine). The high levels of sugar in the almost-raisins meant that the potential alcohol was way over 16%. Even if we’d had a dip at making wine we’d have ended up with jammy, raisin flavours.
Ever the opportunist I considered the possibility of making Pinotage Amarone. In Veneto, where the red wines tend to be quite dilute, the wineries partially dry the grapes, which they then ferment and make into Amarone. This dehydration process increases the concentration in the juice. Perhaps as a niche product, produced in small quantities, there could be a future for Cloof’s Vine-Dried Pinotage Amarone – but 10 000 cases? We left the grapes hanging, and got on with harvesting the grapes that were still healthy.
Which brings me to the juice that’s destined to become the 2007 Cloof Crucible Shiraz. After only a day and a bit on skins the juice is already the most concentrated I’ve ever seen. Clearly the berries lost a fair amount of moisture during the heat wave. One of the dangers of hot conditions is that the sugar goes racing up, without simultaneous ripening of the berries. In the case of this Shiraz the pips were nut brown indicating full physiological ripeness. It promises to be a blockbuster, but first it needs to ferment.
Juice from Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes (potential for Lynchpin 2007) harvested this week is showing good concentration. The flavours are good, so the grapes appear not to have been unduly affected by the hot conditions.
The accelerated nature of this year’s harvest means that we’re already onto Cabernet Sauvignon, a full three weeks ahead of schedule. We’re supposed to be hosting a Harvest Day experience on 17 February. At the rate we’re going we’ll have to ‘borrow’ grapes from a neighbouring farm!