First Quarter Protégé Report – Rudger van Wyk, 2nd year


Having made the choice last year that I’ll be joining Nitida wine estate this year, and vinify my own wine (Bordeaux white blend), this year was quite a nervous start on not knowing what to expect since I was starting with a new winemaker. The general overview was that this year’s vintage was three weeks earlier than last year’s vintage and far drier than last year.

This year’s grapes were a bit earlier. August last year was warmer and dryer than usual which led to an earlier budding of the vines. Although an earlier harvest was expected, we had to wait for our MCC grapes to reach optimal ripeness. The grapes we used for MCC was the usual Pinot noir and Chardonnay. The usual sampling commenced trying to know where we were with the earlier varieties and fixing of harvest equipment as usual happened in the beginning of the year.

When the MCC grapes were ready we harvested at the end of January and through whole bunch pressing the grapes were pressed to extract the purest of juice and minimal colour with the Pinot noir.

Nitida is a small ‘boutique’ winery in the valley in Durbanville, so it’s a very hands-on wine making process and very hard work goes into the cellar, from picking up crates filled with grapes to the logistics of working with a full cellar, a lot of thinking and planning goes into the small winery to make it successful.

After a lagging start to harvest and having waited patiently for the grapes to ripen, it kicked off in mid to end of February with a rapid pace - picking Sauvignon Blanc at different ripening periods and from 6 different sites on the farm. We started to pick grapes from the Darling area which is known to bring a New Zealand ‘green’ style of Sauvignon and add to the complexity to the wine. This year’s harvest produced 120 tons of Sauvignon Blanc which is 57% of our total harvest.

Having worked at Kanonkop last year I had to get used to the processing of white grapes and the concentration it needed to produce quality juice for the yeast to ferment. Controlled skin maturation for Sauvignon Blanc to extract the certain compounds was essential, where as a grape like Riesling we pressed immediately, because skin contact could cause bitterness on the pallet.

The Riesling started to rot like it usually does so we had to cut out all the rot beforehand.  The juice showed early tropical/ granadilla aromas.

The other white juice was fermented in the wood barrels with some of them being fermented wild, adding to two angles to ensure complexity to our Bordeaux white blend and the other wines.

The Pinot noir from De Grendel was the first red grapes to harvest as we do buy in the grapes. It fermented in open top fermenters, as all of the reds, and punched down with an automated blade made by Bernhard Veller. These blades would punch down every four hours of the day, where it’s close to completing fermentation, pump overs of the wine started to stabilize the colour and to ensure a darker colour to the wine. The other reds, after crushing a certain percentage of juice was extracted to ensure a darker colour and optimal extractions from the skins.

Certain patches of the Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet franc were harvested apart as they were from dryer patches than the rest of the block and started to stress which would be bad especially for Merlot, cause it shows green unwanted flavours when the vine stresses.

What the most shocking and unpredictable moment of harvest was, that the Cabernet Sauvignon started to ripen up at the end of February which is very unusual for the grape variety especially in the cool Durbanville valley area. For the grape it’s not that ideal has the hanging time wasn’t that long for more flavour compounds to develop in the berry.

This being the first harvest that I’m experiencing the make of noble late harvest it was quite interesting to behold. Working with Muscat D’Ortonell grapes and Botrytis infected Semillon it promises to be quite a good experiment as to the grapes still have to go into the barrels.

My wine was planned on being a wild fermented Bordeaux white blend with wood fermented Semillon (wild) and Sauvignon making up the blend. The berries were picked at optimal ripeness from different sites on the farm to ensure complexity. It is still currently fermenting and with the wild ferment I’ll have to guts it out and hope that fermentation finishes. It shows early fermentation characters of honey white peach and zesty citrus aroma.

We had an early 2015 Sauvignon blanc bottling in April to ensure our consumers get a fresh fruit full product from this year, because the 2014 vintage is heading to an end.