Waterford Estate 2023 Harvest Update
By Jeremy Maarschalk
Friday - 10 February 2023
A healthy 2023 harvest for the Helderberg wine region.
News articles are doing the rounds mentioning that 2023 may yield one of the lowest-quality
vineyard crops in 17 years due to fungus and sunburn. This is not the case for the wine farms
located on the North facing slope of the Helderberg Mountain. Wineries from the Helderberg
wine region are looking at a healthy and high-quality harvest for the 2023 vintage.
We interviewed winemakers in the region to find out why they are excited about this year’s
harvest even though it hasn't been a textbook growing season.
According to Waterford Estate’s winemaker, Mark Le Roux, the quality of the grapes harvested
is the best since 2017. “The fruit is healthy and the berries are slightly smaller which is great for
flavour and concentration.”
L’Ré Hughes, the winemaker at Stellenzicht confirms that the berries are smaller than usual and
therefore packed with great intensity. “This could shape up to be an exceptional vintage for us.”
Winemaker, Philip van Staden at Dornier also has great expectations for his vineyard.
“Generally speaking our vines are as healthy as in any other year.”
Kleinood’s winemaker, Reynie Oosthuizen agrees that 2023’s grapes are looking really good
and show the most potential since his tenure started in vintage 2019.
The Helderberg Mountain experienced a colder winter this year which is considered a great start
to the season as it forces the vines into their dormancy phase and protects them from budding
too early, allowing the vine to rest and recover from the intensity of the previous harvest period.
“For most of the growing season, we experienced superb growing and ripening conditions
considering a higher-than-normal humidity level. This helped our vineyards by relieving the heat
stress and aided in the vineyard's consistent growth,” says Mark.
An early morning’s harvest at Waterford Estate.
David says growth was moderate from the beginning as spring was a very dry season with
constant winds - ideal for the slow growth of the canopy allowing the vineyards to thicken out
creating a stronger highway for nutrients for the grapes.
The early summer rain was well accepted by the Helderberg wineries, seen as relief rain which
slowed the ripening of the grapes and led to continuous ripening. The common misconception is
that rain during the summer months means that the harvest is lost, this is true but only in
extreme cases. Mark talks us through the rain threshold. “In the heat of summer, you require at
least 10mm of rain before the water reaches effective soil depth for the vineyard to use for
growth. That’s quite a bit of rain before causing negative actions.”
Reynie says, “The December rain just before Christmas allowed the vineyards to go through
veraison without any issues.” Veraison is the term used to describe the onset of ripening, going
hand in hand with the colour change from green to purple in red grapes. Winemaker, Alex
Starey confirms that the rain in December was relief rain. “The vineyards dried out quite a bit
towards the end of last year, but then we had rain in December which caused growth. We now
have a healthy crop hanging.”
“Continuous ripening is what winemakers are after as this leads to berry development rather
than berry enlargement,” explains Mark. The slower ripening in cooler conditions leads to riper
tannins, good fruit development, and richness in the final wine product. The extremities of
weather are what stand between a winery and continuous ripening - if the weather is too warm
the vine shuts down and dehydrates which increases the sugar concentration in the grape, this
can lead to higher levels of alcohol and imbalances in the wine; extreme cold is also an
unwanted condition as the vine will also shut down and this stunts the growth of the vine.
The thunder that scared most of us was a blessing in disguise for the agricultural industry. David
says that the unusual thunder in December had a positive impact on the grapevines as nitrogen
plays a pivotal role. “There is no better nitrogen than natural nitrogen and the positive influence
could be seen immediately - the vines kept on growing which should result in a bit longer hang
time for good phenolic ripeness.”
With the rain, we experienced in the summer months many thought that powdery mildew would
be an issue, but as Reynie from Kleinood says, “Keeping our feet in the vineyards made sure
that no powdery mildew issues were picked up.” This scarcity of mildew and fungal infection is
evident throughout the Helderberg region, this is due to the experience of growing vineyards on
the Helderberg Mountain.
Each winemaker’s intimate knowledge of the conditions of the Helderberg Mountain can be
seen throughout their vineyards. At Waterford Estate for example heat waves are being
managed with canopy control. “We never break away any leaves on our vines to aid in sunlight
penetration, we rather work with narrower canopies that allow for sunlight to pierce through the
canopy but reduce the risk of direct sunlight on the grapes,” says Mark.
As the harvest season continues, the wineries will pursue to be attentive to their vines,
assessing them daily and choosing when to harvest. Reynie mentions that winemaking is an art
and taking the gamble of when to pick is a cumulation of knowledge, science and experience.
“We will continue to taste as we go through the vineyards this vintage and make sure to pick on
taste and not just sugars.”
As a whole, the Helderberg wine region is looking at a healthy harvest for the 2023 vintage. The
experience of these wineries and their teams are showcased in every vintage, the quality of the
grapes grown is without question, and the wine never ceases to impress all who taste it.
#FunFact: Vineyards are survivors and have amazing survival mechanisms. When it gets above
+- 35C, the vineyards shut down and close their breathing holes on their leaves thus slowing the
evaporation of water.
Hurry up! Sale ends once the timer hits zero