Due to our location of the Vilafonté vineyard in the Southern Hemisphere, our growing season begins in the calendar year ahead of our harvest date. For the 2007 vintage we are watching the winter temperatures of May through August 2006 for the ability to accumulate sufficient “chill units” which assures that the vines are fully into dormancy and the cold units provide the stimulus for good budding in the spring. The Cape is truly a ‘Mediterranean’ type of climate and the cold winter months of late 2006 gave us a good accumulation of cold units.
Both winter and spring rainfall amount was slightly above ‘normal.’ Perhaps more importantly, the timing of the rains was good with small amounts of rain in mid-September and early October before our flowering in late-October. While these rains can cause anxiety for the vineyard team since the rainfall and associated cool temperatures and long periods of high humidity provide ideal conditions for mildew - there were no problems since the spacing of the rains was nearly ideal.
|Dr. Phil Freese, Zelma Long & Mike Ratcliffe|
The Vilafonté vineyard is a low to moderate vegetative growth area so we did not have issues of overly dense canopies from the small amounts of rain. (In fact we do not even own or use a hedging machine.) Standard canopy management practice has us retain just one shoot per spur location on our uniquely designed cordon trained vines. Thus the canopy begins the season nicely spaced with good air and sunlight penetration and low disease pressure. These canopies are much like a cane-pruned vine but with the benefit of the extra stored carbohydrate supply of the cordon’s permanent wood structure. In cool springs we have good storage reserves for flowering and moderate vegetative growth with the uniformity of shoot growth afforded by cordon-trained vines.
These attributes were important in the flowering of October. Our Malbec and Merlot vines are always first to bloom and they were at 50% flowering in the mild temperatures of the 3rd week of October. There were then 3 days of windy and cool weather where much of the Cabernet was in flowering. Our experience is building to give us confidence in our site that Cabernet Sauvignon, being the hearty Bordeaux varietal, seems to be less sensitive to cool weather at flowering than some of the other red Bordeaux varieties.
Cabernet Franc in the cool weather of late October 2006 tended to give us more variability in flowering timing and thus led to more variability in veraison-time coloring of the fruit. Also the crop level was somewhat lower due to poor ‘set’ or fertilization of the flowers and their development into berries – again related to the cool temperatures and some overcast skies.
In January 2007 we introduced a practice that we thought was revolutionary - the full-scale practice of veraison thinning on a “per berry” basis. Instead of going through the vineyard and throwing off entire clusters that are late in coloring – we instead used our observations of the flowering variability in October and wanted to remove only the individual green berries.
Fortunately we had a small team of highly trained women who were accustomed to working in table grape vineyards. When we ask them to carefully hold and turn each cluster of fruit and remove only the green and pink berries within the clusters, they simply said ‘fine – we can do that.’ While we thought this would be a challenging concept and practice – they did it with ease as it is a common practice in some table grape varieties.
The growing season was moderate with its normal 3 to 5 days cycles of a build of daily high temperatures then a cooling of several days and then the gradual building again. The exception to the normal seasonal pattern came near the end of January with 5 days of high daily temperatures near 400 C and warm nights. Most of our varieties were finishing veraison stage and not affected by the burst of heat.
There is the theory that a burst of heat will accelerate the ripening process. Such heat events can in fact accelerate the apparent sugar concentration due to loss of water from the stressed vines but we do not look at this as true ripening. We applied some drip irrigation and waited patiently for our customarily early Merlot and Malbec to recover their flavor profiles and ‘composure’ after the heat.
Harvest began on the 31st of January with “Z” block Merlot – a “core” wine that can contribute strongly to both Series C and M wine blends. This was followed with the Malbec blocks of “V” and “W” on February 2nd.
The second week of February had a forecast of more rain and we brought in additional merlot just before 3 days of rain (20 mm).
Mid-February provided regular daily rhythm of warming and cooling cycles and an even ripening of the balance of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
March began with 3 days of rain and cool temperatures which gave us over 35 mm (more than 1.4 inches) of rain fall. We often call these late-season rains on Cabernet as ‘cleansing’ of the fruit referring to washing off any bit of dust. In fact the rains are valuable for the last bit of natural moisture needed for the final ripening but the cooler temperatures associated with a typical storm system also send key signals to the vines that it is getting on to what we call ‘game over’ stage for the growing season and the push to finish tannin ripening of seeds and skins and softening of the last bit of under-ripe characters.
We finished the vintage with the balance of our Cabernet Sauvignon blocks at the end of the first week of March.