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Vintage Reports

Slightly later budding followed a very dry winter. Then there were record low levels of spring rain and a dry January. A cooling 20 mm shower in mid-February, dropping temperatures and cold nights almost halted sugar accumulation for a few weeks, allowing fruit expression and structure to come together beautifully. 2018 was a great year!

The run up to ripening of the 2017 harvest was very dry, with insufficient winter rains and very little during budding. Happily the result was smaller and looser bunches with great concentration, flavour development and fantastic wines. As runaway veld fires at the start of the year had been a concern, all Morgenster’s vineyard blocks were analysed to ensure no smoke-affected vines were used in production.

2016 was the driest vintage in recorded history with record breaking heat in December and January resulting in a lot of cellars starting to harvest very early. Most white cultivars came in early and performed very well with beautiful aromatics. Then suddenly temperatures dropped in February and March, giving winemakers a highly desirable lengthy period of ripening which enabled them to make wines with great balance, fine extracted tannins and focus on length and purity. Another great vintage!

This was the earliest start to any season in more than 40 years. Budding was earlier, so too was flowering and grape set caused by a warmer November and December. It was also quite dry, with November 2014 being the last nice wet spell. What initially seemed like an unpredictable harvest delivered good surprises with the 2015 wines showing great quality.

Record rains in August and November 2013 were followed by normal summer temperatures, but nothing extreme, with really cold evenings. A nice pre-harvest rain in January lifted the freshness of the vines with further sprinklings of rain throughout the harvest, mostly late. With an early ripening of the harvest we could take off our grapes before the big rains at the beginning of April.

We enjoyed a much colder and wetter winter than usual during 2012. Later, even budding in the vineyards boded well. Cold weather conditions continued after bud burst, then we experienced the warmest December in 48 years, with 23 days above 30ºC and 10 days above 35ºC. January and February were wetter than usual. The greater variation between day and night temperatures had a positive impact on the grape quality during the ripening period. Although rain, especially during February, at times raised anxiety levels during picking, this was a good harvest.

The 2012 vintage will be hailed as one of the best in the recent past and my best to date at Morgenster. Cool ripening conditions and lower night temperatures aided the production of phenols, accumulation of flavours as well as retention of natural fresh acidy. Lower rainfall in ripening and harvest made for more concentrated flavour development.

December 2010 was the windiest in 50 years, contributing to a lower water holding capacity in the vineyards. 2011 started out very dry with no rain falling in the New Year and very little after veraison. This required close monitoring of stress levels of the vines with higher stress levels was managed and irrigation was only done in extreme cases.

November 2009 was one of the wettest and windiest in 50 years. Coming into ripening, January was pretty slow, being very dry and also cooler than our long-term average. At the end of February and the beginning of March a long hot spell of 10 days turbo-charged the ripening and in response we finished picking in 22 days. This was my quickest harvest ever!

January was very cool. We didn’t have a lot of rain, and the average temperatures were lower than normal. February at long last lived up to the hot month that it is, by delivering our first hot spell, with a minor downpour in the middle of the month but not enough to break the heat. At the end of the month there was another week of immense heat. March came through with little damp or rain to speak of either. The cool maritime influences and day/night temperature variation are precursors of good quality, and as it turned out, really great wines were made.

The fantastic winter rain was just what the Cape needed and preceded something special. A later bud break and some cooler ripening temperatures were rudely interrupted by a February thunderstorm, forcing viticulturists to put on their boxing gloves to fight off all sorts of nasties in the vines. We prevailed! March saw the Cape summer in full swing and the effect of the cooler February temperatures fell by the wayside as everything ripened simultaneously.

In general the build-up was extremely positive, with good cooler temperatures and rain at the right times. Although there was some heat in the beginning of the season the night time temperatures stayed cooler. With the appearance of millerandage (small, seedless berries amid a few normal berries) we had no choice but to wait out the ripening period and intensified our sorting program to eliminate small greener berries and uneven ripeness.

For producers in several regions the 2006 vintage was characterised by uneven ripening as a result of cold, rainy weather during the budding season. However on the whole growth was good and the canopy sufficient, with warm, dry weather in February resulting in excellent, slow ripening conditions which contributed to good phenolic ripening and produced one of Morgenster’s best vintages to date.

The quality of this year's red wine grapes was excellent, despite a serious drought, unpredictable weather and lower volumes than the previous year. Lush growth occurred after thunderstorms and rain in October resulting in grape bunches being looser and smaller than usual. Sun damage was limited as there were fewer heat waves despite the drought.

This harvest was challenging in terms of late ripening varietals, with much debate over the optimum ripening status of the grapes. The season was almost four weeks later than 2003. Strict crop thinning (green harvesting) was employed to ensure quality. In the past the Morgenster philosophy was based on the dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc rather than Merlot, but in response to conditions that favoured the earlier ripening Merlot, we showed our respect by reflecting its dominance in the blend, the first time in our Flagship blend.

There was equality in ripening, with physiological, phenolic and sugar ripeness reaching optimum levels simultaneously. The maturation period of the fruit on the vines, the “hanging time”, was slow and long and perfect weather conditions prevailed. This was a vintage where we could take perfectly ripe fruit off at lower sugar levels. This vintage will probably be regarded as one of the best at Morgenster.

2002 was a most difficult harvest. As a result of cold rainy conditions, mould and fungal growth wreaked havoc and the ripeness levels of especially Cabernet Sauvignon were very slow to pick up. With slower vintages the aging or evolution is also slower, and accordingly the 2002 vintage is only now promising greatness and rewarding our patience.

This was a challenging vintage with a small crop. The hot dry summer resulted in excellent concentrations of fruit, anthocyanins and tannins. The winemakers, however, had to be very patient about optimal ripeness and picking dates. A somewhat delayed phenolic ripeness (physiological appearance) caused the sugars to develop and resulted in higher alcohols. The fruit however was opulent and big structures were attained, producing wonderfully balanced wines from this vintage.

The 2000 summer was marked by an extremely hot growing season and unrelenting drought, said to be the most severe for the previous 40 years. The effects of the heat, drought and delayed or uneven budding were partially counteracted by cooler temperatures during January and February which promoted concentrated flavours. Pre-harvest conditions produced reds with smaller berries. Careful selection produced fully ripened berries with full colour, good flavours and tannins, and generous alcohols.

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P.O. Box 1616, Somerset West, 7129, South Africa
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