Harvest Report 2021
The year that followed no rules. This is probably the easiest way to sum up the peculiar and unpredictable 2021 vintage. A vintage that was immensely different from region to region, farm to farm and even block to block.
Winter arrived relatively late in 2020 but brought with it enough rain and cold weather to recharge groundwater and ensure enough cold units could build up. The wet and cold weather persisted through August and into September, causing a delay in bud break of around 2 weeks. On Saxenburg our Chardonnay vines had its best bud break of the last few seasons, but we struggled with uneven bud break on especially our Syrah vineyards.
The season progressed nicely, with moderate temperatures and very few heat spikes. However, some rainy weather in November and a few cold and wet days in December increased disease pressure immensely. This increased pressure and the uneven growth of some varieties necessitated lots of careful vineyard management. When veraison finally started, about two weeks later than normal, we had to do stringent crop control and we sometimes did two to three green bunch droppings to ensure even ripening. This had a detrimental effect on production, but in a tricky vintage, these difficult decisions are key to ensure quality.
Harvest started on the 8th of February, 17 days later than in 2020. February, usually the hottest month of the year, was very moderate, with the temperature only creeping above 30 degrees for three days. This meant vineyards had ample time to ripen their fruit physiologically, with no dehydration or raisining occurring. A few warm days at the end of February/beginning of March saw a jump in sugars on most of our “Bordeaux” varieties, but strangely not on our Syrah vineyards. Be that as it may, it caused a surge in picking activity in the beginning of March. This was abruptly halted by a downpour of nearly 50mm of rain in the second week of March. Lots of time was spent in the vineyard, tasting and sampling grapes, after this to ensure we allowed the water to work its way out. Finally, 7 days later we could slowly start picking again, with the picking, gathering pace 10 days after the rain. The final week in March again saw some warmer weather, which helped the ripening along and we finally finished harvest on the 30th of March.
So what to make of the wines after such an interesting vintage? Overall, (and I’m reluctant to make too many broad, sweeping statements about this vintage) we have incredible natural acidities this year – even more so than in 2020. The whites seem to have an incredible crystalline purity to them because of this, which is particularly apparent on the Sauvignon blanc. With the uneven bud break and subsequent uneven growth and ripening on most of our red vineyards, I was initially very worried about the quality of these. However, it does seem as if our efforts in the vineyards have paid dividends, with the “Bordeaux” varieties showing beautiful fruit ripeness and dense tannin structures. Our Syrah batches are perfumed, with aromatics of both red and black fruit, as well as beautiful black pepper notes. At this early stage it does seem as if the reds will perhaps lack some of the elegance of 2020, but they will have superior structure and density.
As always, between the rush of harvest, we also made time to experiment and push ourselves out of our comfort zones, to see what magic the fruit from this incredible farm can produce. Hopefully, we’ll get to share some of these more “experimental” wines, together with our other wines, with you in the near future.
Cheers to a memorable, albeit interesting, 2021 harvest!
Dirk van Zyl
Saxenburg Winemaker and Cellarmaster
Watch Dirk’s Harvest 2021 Report here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b-ujYqk6BE