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Oak Valley

Oak Valley

by Jacques du Plessis

Battling The Elements – Harvest 2024

When one reflects on the 2024 season, it will be remembered as one of the most challenging and extreme this past decade.

The effect of the current El Nino cycle can be tangibly felt, even here in cool climate Elgin. The winter months of June, July, August 2023 were typical, providing us with good rainfall (390mm), low average daytime temperatures (12.1°C) and cold average minimum temperatures (3.2°C) which pushed our vines into deep dormancy.

Spring got off to a stormy start with average temperatures higher in August than September. The ferocity of the storm on Heritage weekend (24/25 September) will go down in history, crossing the 200-year flood line and causing hundreds of millions in damages on farms. For 36 hours the skies opened and 260mm poured down damaging infrastructure, dams, bridges, causing landslides on the Groenlandberg and erosion in our steeper vineyards.

Thankfully our cover crops protected our precious topsoils, but the climatic effect on flowering would manifest later in our yields. The later budding cultivars, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, were particularly affected.

October gave us warmer and drier days and a chance for the vines to catch up on growth. We did experience high Mildew (fungal) pressure in October with high humidity and plenty of light rain, but we were able to control it.

The remainder of the growing phase from October to December 2023 was drier than normal with only 127mm rain. While the ripening phase in January was similarly drier than normal with only 10mm rain.

This season was also different in terms of wind direction. We normally get plenty South Easter during the ripening phase, which gives us cloudy and cool conditions, but this year we saw more Easterly winds, a drier/warmer wind.

The warmest day in January was a scorching 37.7°C and in February we had another extreme 37.8°C day. Our average daytime temperature for January and February was 21.7°C, almost 2 °C warmer than our long-term average 19.8°C.

The soils were dry after the low spring rainfall so the vineyards experienced some heat stress on our exposed and rocky sites. This caused sunburn on some of the exposed bunches which reduced crops in our older Sauvignon Blanc blocks.

Picking started on 29 January with our young Chardonnay block and ended with Merlot on 7 March.

Berry and bunch sizes were smaller due to the drier conditions which reduced our yields even further. Our Chardonnay was down -23%, Pinot down -28% and Sauvignon Blanc down -37%. Low yields were a trend across almost all regions this year, one can expect a shortage of premium wine in the next 12-18 months.

Tasting the 2024’s in barrel, the potential is there for another stunning vintage. The grapes were healthy and the acidity levels on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were naturally high. The Pinot Noir has deep colour thanks to smaller berries and the flavour/aroma concentrations are impressive.  

The challenging and expensive 2024 season served as another reminder that in farming you gamble with nature, and, inevitably, nature always wins.

Jacques du Plessis
Viticulturist & Winemaker

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