Some of the vines have started to drop their leaves preparing for the cold season ahead. The hustle and bustle of vintage seems long forgotten as the winery has started to settle into its winter rhythm. Harvest equipment has been cleaned and packed away until next year and most of the 2016 batches have found their way into barrels starting the maturation process.
Our last grapes made their way to the cellar on the 4th of April 2016 and marked the end of another successful season at Ernie Els Wines which began, what seemed an eternity ago, in Winter 2015. We saw a lower than average rainfall during the 2015 winter, but were fortunate to still experienced enough cold days for even and healthy bud burst. With the change of season, the warm weather made a welcome return in early Spring, ideal for shoot development, flowering and fruit set. Continuous dry weather and many hot days made vineyard management fairly easy during the rest of the season. Not a lot of spraying was required in the vineyards, due to the warm weather and low disease pressure. We did however notice less growth in the vineyards during the growing season leaving most of the vineyards with the same amount of bunches as previous years, but smaller, more concentrated berries. A typical reaction by the vines to compensate for the dry conditions.
Summer saw some extreme heat conditions from mid-December through to the first week in February with temperatures soaring to the high 30’s and some days reaching well above 40ºC. During extremely hot weather, the vine shuts down respiration and withdraws the water from the bunches to help them survive. These weather conditions brought the harvest date of early ripening varieties like Merlot forward by almost 21 days which meant that 2016 was the earliest recorded harvest since 2005 at Ernie Els Wines.
Given the early start we all thought that the harvest would have drawn to a close by the end of February, but by mid February the evenings became much cooler which slowed down maturation of grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. The cooler nights were perfect for a more steady maturation and ripening period which meant that we could pick at perfect ripeness. This took pressure off the cellar so we could take our time with different fermentation styles, skin maceration and pressing.
In most years we have a typical skin to pulp ratio of 12:1 on our Cabernet Sauvignons. This year it was closer to 16:1. As colour and tannins are mostly found in the skins, our young Cabernets are showing loads of intensity in colour and tannins with good potential for maturation.
We treated the small berries that developed in the vineyards with great sensitivity, careful not to do extended maceration. We also adapted our fermentation techniques on some of our Cabernet Sauvignon batches by not over-doing the pump overs which gave us a good balance between extraction and flavour.
2016 had its challenges and it is still early days, but so far the wines are all showing great vintage specific intensity in flavours and aromas. We think it deserves a solid 8 out of 10 and are expecting great things from the class of 2016.
A brief synopsis and introduction to the class of 2016:
1. Cabernet Sauvignon is showing great colour with good tannins and flavour. Typical Helderberg aromas with vintage specific intensity.
2. Shiraz has good mid-pallet weight and well integrated tannins with lower alcohol percentages due to ripening during the last week of February.
3. Merlot is showing lovely balance with great length.
4. Malbec is showing typical bright fruit with lots of Turkish delight.
5. Cabernet franc is progressing steadily with good flavor concentration.
6. Petit Verdot has typical flavours with excellent potential to develop during maturation.