I think it’s safe to say that the legendary 2013/2014 harvest will be remembered as a particularly challenging one. Mother Nature took out her big guns and viticulturists did everything to defend their fields. They anticipated a bloodbath with the preceding climatological curveballs the previous season and all joined forces in the agreement that strategy was absolutely everything. They had to choose their weapons carefully, have their men on their toes at all times and be able to adapt to circumstances imposing crop threatening danger.
I had just reported for my first harvest and I soon realized that despite lengthy and meticulous planning, complications were inevitable. Naturally, with complications come damage control and once the damage is done, there are very few tricks that will allow you to still produce worthy wine. The length of a winemaker’s sleeve in situations like these can be directly correlated to the inherent quality of the intended product. The problem here is that some of these tricks are slightly dicey and in some cases borderline to downright illegal.
As a young rookie, on my first vineyard routine visit with a viticulture consultant, I was quizzed on my industry knowledge. As an arrogant winemaking student with a few dozen textbooks freshly loaded onto my brain, I attempted to answer every question without hesitation. Confident definitions streamed from my mouth until my perfect role came to a dramatic halt with the words: “Are you familiar with the KTM method? No? Cold steam fining?” I had no memory of these terms. Embarrassed, I drove home that evening, eager to consult my three years’ worth of class notes in the attempt to feed my shot down confidence and apparent vague knowledge of the world of wine. Strangely, it was nowhere to be found, so I consulted the internet. To my utter humiliation I came to discover, as I was typing it into the search bar, that “cold steam” is nothing but water, and that “KTM” is simply an acronym for Kraan-Teen-Muur. For those of you that are as blonde as I was, I’m referring to merely adding water to wine.
In a warm viticultural country such as South Africa, where the ripening season is marked by high temperatures, grapes accumulate high sugar concentrations before they reach physiological ripeness. To harvest at full physiological ripeness, winemakers face the fact that sugar concentrations could be much higher than optimum. This is a major threat as high sugar concentrations are precursors for high alcohol percentages. The higher the alcohol percentage, the larger the chance of a fermentation running sluggish or even stuck and the smaller the chance that your wine will be allowed into the export market.
The easiest way to curb this problem, however, goes against our traditional regulations. Nevertheless, as does with all things a little unlawful, the questionable trend has adapted to a “…but everybody’s doing it” mentality; and for those individuals that claim not to partake in these rebellious activities, let’s hope those wallets are as thick as those morals are tall.