As a specialist Chardonnay winery focussing on site-specific wines bearing individual characteristics, the unique features of each year's vintage is of the utmost importance. The vintage adds a fingerprint to a wine, giving it that mark of true distinction.
The site of the vineyard is there, fixed and permanent. The wine-making methodology remains much the same. But the annual cycle which the vine undergoes in its specific natural environment is never, ever the same. On the day which a bunch of grapes is picked, that fruit reflects the varying temperatures, the wind, air pressures, the rain and the frost of the previous 365 days. It is thus obvious that every year will see different flavours, chemical structures and aroma compounds that will never be repeated.
Like site and terroir, vintage makes wine unique.
In recent years, De Wetshof has identified 2009 as the Vintage of The Millennium thus far. These wines are now eight years old and vindicate the excitement we had when the first bunches of fruit hit the cellar in that year. You take one look at the bins full of Chardonnay, which looks like green caviar in a good year, and you know you are onto something.
Which brings us to this year's vintage. And once again we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about 2017. The fruit arrived at the cellar in exceptional health. The pressed juice oozed character, showed balanced pH-levels and a wonderful balance between sugar and acidity. Now that the wines have fermented, we can say this is going to be another fine vintage, possibly as good as 2009.
One of the reasons for this, we believe, was that during the harvest we did not experience vicious heat-waves. Days were generally breezy, and nights cool.
De Wetshof is particularly precise about their daily harvesting schedule. We begin working in the vineyards at around 03:00, and as soon as the mercury reaches 27°C the pickers stop. As it gets warmer, the grape's structure changes. The bunches were therefore allowed to rest during the heat of day, and cool down at night – leaving them revitalised and fresh to be harvested the next morning.
And with 70% of the farm planted to Chardonnay, much of the harvest is compacted into three weeks, ensuring all fruit is picked at optimum ripeness. This allows us to get the best out of the site-specific vineyards – for this time nature gave us a fantastic year, so it is our duty to do it justice.