I am busier at age 79 (on 14 April) than ever before and am also blessed with many interests.
On Sunday mornings I head off at dawn to Karridale, a one-hour drive to work out whether the grapes are ripe enough. A good sample means walking the length of a representative row, taking berries from the right and left, every fourth vine, occasionally tasting. To taste effectively you separate the seed from the skin and pulp, look at the colour. Green seeds and green pulp are indicators of unripe grapes. Unripe flavours never mature.
The season began cool. So, in November when the vines flowered, and the crop was set, the leaf area was small. This gives rise to fewer and smaller bunches, and seedless berries that never expand. Growers recognise the pattern as Hen and Chicken. In some instance seedless berries don’t accumulate sugar. By walking the rows on a weekly basis, you get an idea of the rate of change and the degree of uniformity, or lack of it.
This season has been very special because my daughter Suzanne has insisted on accompanying me on these sampling trips. She shares the driving which is great and reduces the chance of me picking up a speeding ticket.
This year the crop is light, I’ve never seen it smaller. But owing to the generous warmth and lack of rainfall since January maturation has been speedy.
Last year was a huge contrast with rain from mid-January onwards with cyclones streaming down from the tropics, leaf damage due to disease and delayed maturity that tests your will to hang on. When the sugar builds quickly the tendency is to pick and if when you’re not sampling properly, you may miss the green elements. When the sugar builds slowly, the green flavours are more obvious for longer.
It's an exciting time for us all. Good wine? We’ll see in due course.