Wrapping up Harvest 2017
Short, sharp and very good. This was harvest 2017 at Backsberg Estate Cellars where scarcely two months after the first grapes were picked this frenetically busy season for the winery came to an end in the first few days of March. For Alicia Rechner, Backsberg’s wine maker, the evidence of the quality of this year’s harvest and the stamp that Vintage 2017 will leave on the esteemed wine-range, is to be seen in the young wines.
“As the grapes came in from the vineyards I saw bunches showing even ripening with a good balance between acids and sugars,” she says. “Yields were slightly down due to the dry, hot conditions that have characterised the Cape Winelands over the past two years.”
Lower yields have meant intensely concentrated berries packed with flavour, as a recent early-morning tasting of young red wines showed. Pinotage, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon – most still in the process of fermentation – are already showing deep colours with an assertive presence on the palate. Although the red wines still have a way to go with fermentation to be completed, where-after months of maturation in wood awaits, they are already showing excellent structure, refinement and polished flavour profiles.
“It has to do with the smaller berries nature gave us in the red varieties this year,” says Alicia. “Some of these bunches only weighed 58grams compared to 80grams in a normal season. Less weight, more concentration of sugars and flavours.”
Tasting the young white wines of 2017, one aspect that stands out is life and freshness. Chardonnay, especially, is showing an elegant balance between bright, mineral notes and those delicious hints of citrus and nuts that make this royal Burgundian variety the world’s most popular white variety.
On the sweeter side, this year’s Nobel Late Harvest Gewürztraminer is showing opulent, crisp notes of apple, litchi and lime, while maintaining a zippy line of acidity to ensure the wine remains fresh on the palate.
The quality of the white wines, that are almost classical, can be ascribed to the relative temperate conditions just before and during the harvest season. “We all expected another pounding from a Boland heat-wave, but the summer has been surprisingly comfortable,” she says. “Nights cooled down and although there were one or two very hot days we did not have any protracted periods of heat. And the grapes were extraordinarily healthy – not a sign of disease or rot.”
Backsberg’s vineyards are spread over 60 hectares and include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, each variety planted to sites especially selected to provide optimum varietal expression.
With the grapes having been picked, the next part of the season starts now. Alicia and her winery team must coax the young wines through the processes of lees contact, aging and wood maturation until they are ready to be bottled. Out in the vineyards the plants and the soils have to prepared to ensure that they go into their winter slumber in a healthy state of nourishment. For as things go on a wine farm, before you know it the new buds are breaking in the vineyards and the next harvest will be on the horizon.