Harvest time

Harvest time means early mornings for harvesters, late nights for winemakers, truck loads of grapes rolling into the cellars, filling barrels to empty tanks (and vice versa) to make space for the new crop … in other words, a hive of activity.

High-lying Pinot Noir nearly ready for picking
High-lying Pinot Noir nearly ready for picking

But not every day is the same; much depends on the weather. It was rain that left Andries Burger and his Paul Cluver Estate Wines’ team without any grapes to process the morning I visited this week. They’ve instituted a new regime this year: harvesting starts at midnight and ends at 6am so when the winemaking team arrive at 6.30, the grapes are ready and waiting. The harvesting team like this arrangement, as it’s cooler at night and presumably they’re not plagued by heat-loving insects. But even with headlamps, nighttime harvesting requires extra care, especially on the slopes where the Cluver team were due to pick but it was deemed too dangerous.

Things might have been quiet on the grape front, but that didn’t mean there was nothing

Even the kitchen whisk is useful in the cellar to stir up the yeast.
Even the kitchen whisk is useful in the cellar to stir up the yeast.

going on. A young German intern was energetically rolling barrels down a slipway, emptying them of a pre-juice filling treatment and adroitly manoeuvring each down the length of the cellar. Paul, a French intern, was filling small barrels with Oak Valley shiraz from a tank (neighbour, Oak Valley hires winemaking space at Cluver; this year, due to Peter Visser’s ill health, Burger will be in charge of vinifying all their wines). To avoid over-spill, he was using a nifty piece of equipment with two pins, which are inserted into the bung hole, and a battery-run light on top, which turns green once the wine hits the pins, thus warning the person filling the barrel that it’s nearly full. Anyone who’s peered into a barrel through those small bung holes will appreciate it’s not easy to see how full or empty it is.  It’s a great idea in theory, but one has to look very sharpish to warn the pump controller to turn it off once the green light is activated, otherwise the wine gushes out, as Paul discovered at his first try!

A German Stück, oak barrel which Andries Burger intends using for riesling.

Further down the cellar, Burger’s assistant, Drew, and a cellarhand, were paying detailed attention to bunches of grapes in several lug boxes. They removed 40 berries from each bunch, weighed then crushed them before taking a sugar reading. This is all part of annual harvest data keeping that may provide valuable information down the line. Burger pulled out a bunch of riesling, which looked perfect to me, until he removed a few berries to reveal the telltale signs of botrytis in the middle of the tightly packed bunch. This is not something wanted in the regular Dry Encounter Riesling (previously labelled Riesling) but it is an indication that 2014 is likely to be a good year for the Cluver’s fabulous Noble Late Harvest riesling.

Vines are only a small part of the Cluver’s 2400 hectare property; both apples and pears are substantial income earners and are harvested around the same time as grapes. And they need to be treated just as gently. After a drive around the farm with Liesl Rust (née Cluver), we pass a slow-moving tractor pulling three large bins full of apples. ‘Appearance is an important part of selling an apple,’ Rust tells me, ‘so the drivers know not to do anything which could bruise them.’

Cluverbarreltrack25214As a Biodiversity & Wine Initiative Champion, the Cluvers are naturally enthusiastic about eradicating aliens and preserving the fynbos. Aliens are put to good use, rather than just burned. Many have been incorporated into the wooden bridges such as those in the photos. And the familiar looking slats are nothing less than staves from old wine barrels. Despite the rather large gaps between the staves, it all feels gratifyingly stable, though I wouldn’t like to be riding hell for leather over them on a mountain bike, which riders in the Cape Epic will be doing shortly. Next to the amphitheatre – yet another string to the creative Cluver bow, where popular concerts are held during summer – Dr Cluver has built yet more mountain bike obstacles. Here, the old barrel heads have been put to good use.

The benefit of an occasional fynbos burn is evident in the re-appearance of lush growth where a fierce fire destroyed hectares, and damaged Dr Paul Cluver’s hand, some two or three years ago. Even in mid-summer, a wide spectrum of beautiful Ericas are there to admire.

Lunch with Burger, the interns and Burgundian, Martin Prieur, who has been consulting on the Cluver chardonnay and pinot for the past few years, is followed by a quick tasting of some of the currently available wines. A superb 2013 Gewurztraminer, 2102 Pinot Noir and Close Encounter Riesling 2012 more than uphold the Cluver name as one of the Cape’s top Cape. Look out too for the new Village Pinot Noir 2013, a fruity, easy-drinking pinot, which responds positively to chilling and costs a reasonable R80.

Cluver Village Pinot

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