Thanks in large part to the delayed arrival of winter rainfall, the 2021 growing and 2022 harvest seasons got off to a later start than usual – but in times like these, what is “usual” anyway?
Our knowledgeable and experienced viticulturist and winemaking team took careful note of evolving conditions, adapting their vineyard management and harvest timings to ensure optimal quality. The result is that 2022 is one of the most promising harvests in recent years.
Following a dry and warm autumn, winter rainfall arrived later than usual – at the end of May 2021. We continued to receive showers right through spring into late November. By the end of the year, Stellenbosch rainfall measured more than 700 mm, in line with the usual long-term average. As a result, most of the catchment dams overflowed, soil water was replenished, and the growing season began positively.
Temperatures during the peak summer season were moderate until a series of heatwaves in early February caused sunburn to exposed grapes and damage to vine leaves. By the end of the month, these gave way to cooler day- and nighttime temperatures, positively affecting the rest of the season. Autumn 2022 arrived earlier than usual, with cooler temperatures and a series of cold fronts.
Growing conditions and vineyard management
At Spier, we plant a combination of cover crops – including medics, vetch, oats, barley, and mustard – to provide natural competition to weeds and bind nitrogen. The late winter rainfall delayed the planting of these crops.
Pruning began in July and was finished by the end of September. Budburst was uniform but somewhat delayed, with some vineyards starting to bud as late as October.
The continuous rainfall resulted in extra growth and vigour, forcing us to focus on suckering and canopy management through leaf breaking and topping until December.
In January, we did “green harvesting” on all the premium red vineyards to ensure homogeneity of the grapes and the optimal quality of the resulting wine.
We harvested the first grapes for the sparkling wine base in late January, along with some early ripening Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc. In the beginning, harvesting was slow because, despite a series of heatwaves, the ripening did not accelerate.
The initial grape sugar levels were not as high as in previous years, and the grapes tended to be phenolically riper at these lower levels. As a result, the first Pinotage from Stellenbosch was harvested late in February, making for a difficult March with the same cultivars from different regions ripening at the same time and putting pressure on fermentation capacity.
We received our last grapes at Spier on the 1st of April. Overall, the 2022 vintage was a slightly bigger crop than 2021 and similar in size to 2020.
With the aim of expanding our organic range, we sourced new vineyards and grapes producers to complement the grapes from the organic Spier and Nooitgedacht farms. Crops from Spier-owned organic vineyards were slightly higher than 2021, with quality meeting our expectations. New plantings on Nooitgedacht will start producing grapes in the 2023 harvest.
We are very excited about the quality of the 2022 harvest – which, following drought and temperamental weather patterns, ranks among the best in recent years.
The tannic white varieties like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc show great fruit concentration, character and balanced acidity. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon delivered fruit quality and concentration as expected, with a more tropical and perfumed fruit profile this year. The heat also contributed some positive effects, like the ripening of pyrazine, leaving a wine with a more tropical palate, balanced with length and persistence.
The later ripening Pinotage fruit delivered a wine with exceptional balance and phenolic maturity due to the longer hang time on the vines. As a result, you can expect silky, dense and rich Pinotage from this vintage.
Our experience is that when Chardonnay shows high quality, Merlot typically does the same – and this year was no exception. This year’s crop was characterised by little berries with a lot of intensity. We could see early on that tannin management would be the determining factor for this harvest, and had to be careful not to extract too much tannin. Due to the small berries, extraction was slightly softer compared to previous years, resulting in concentrated fruit aromas, a broad midpalate and a long smooth finish. Of course, these wines will still benefit from the oak maturation programme, but already they are looking very promising.
The climate was more challenging for the later ripening varietals like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Early indications from the temperature change in late March suggested that conditions would be similar to 2014, and we had to decide between picking earlier or being patient. Our team’s experience and longstanding relationships with our growers and grape sources allowed us to make decisions that benefitted the wine quality. Deep colour and rich mouthfeel are the hallmarks of these varietals for this vintage.
With good rainfall in 2021, it is evident that most vineyards have recovered from the recent drought which lasted several years. As a result, the 2022 harvest was larger than the previous 5 to 6 years and will be remembered for different challenges than other years.
"At this early stage of reflection, 2022 appears to be a vintage featuring real depth of fruit, great balance and length, culminating in great drinkability early on while also promising a great reward for the more patient connoisseur, " says Cellar Master Johan Jordaan.