This year marks the 331st crush at Groot Constantia, or rather, a number close to 331. As you can imagine, keeping track of events on an estate that has been producing wine for over 300 years is not an exact science. The crush this year, however, is.
The human industry set in motion at Groot Constantia at the beginning of the year is the culmination of a process that started back in 2015. Throughout last year’s winter, the vines lay in wait for spring to come so they could burst into life with brand new leaves and baby grapes that would fill with the natural goodness of Groot Constantia’s terroir to hang fat with juice – ready for the plucking – by summertime.
It’s then when the harvesting team at Groot Constantia start sharpening their scissors for another year’s crush. And although they’ve been plying their trade for many generations, the work at hand is never a chore and done with enthusiasm and eagerness found only in people who love what they do.
From the vineyards to the winery, the grapes are handled with pride and care to ultimately become award-winning wine. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Groot Constantia grapes are picked by masters of the craft who fill crates by the ton. A skill honed over time. Here’s how they do it.
Harvested by hand
“We harvest everything by hand,” says Groot Constantia winemaker Boela Gerber. He adds the tools of the trade are as important as the hands that operate them. “Groot Constantia harvesters use special scissors called “pars-skêre” (crushing scissors) to snip the grapes wherever they can fit the blades between the bunch and the cane.”
Interestingly, not all grapes varietals are harvested at the same tempo. Shiraz grapes are much easier, and quicker, to get into the crates owing to a long stem separating the bunch from the vine’s cane. Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, have a small, compact bunch with a short stem.
Regardless of the level of difficulty, however, Groot Constantia harvesters make sure they get each bunch on the 146 hectare estate into a crate.
From vineyard to winery
After being picked, the grapes must make the sometimes arduous journey from the vineyard to the winery. White grapes are more sensitive and therefore require a gentler mode of transport. The white varietals are packed in smaller lug boxes holding roughly 17 to 18 kg per box and loaded on to a special trailer for a softer ride.
“This is done to minimise damage to the grape and limit oxidation to preserve the fruit flavour,” says Gerber.
Red grapes are less fussy when it comes to travelling. The red varietals are transported to the winery in a good old-fashioned trailer, or “parswa”, able to hold a whopping two tons of grapes at a time.
After the grapes arrive safely at the winery, they’re loaded into a stainless steel receiving bin where harvesting officially ends and winemaking begins.
Knowing when to start the crush
Knowing when to start the crush is of utmost importance. This year’s crush at Groot Constantia started two weeks earlier than usual as a result of “very obvious reasons”, as Gerber puts it, those reasons being lower than average rainfall caused by a severe drought currently gripping South Africa.
“In a very warm, dry season like we are experiencing this year, the vineyards can show decline and will not be able to ripen the grapes after a certain point,” says Gerber. “You will be better off to harvest the grapes, rather than let it hang on a suffering vine. The vineyard can take water or nutrients back from the bunches, which is not good for wine quality.”
The exact day on which to start the crush is determined by a combination of science and a human touch.
“We do a basic analysis (pH, acidity and sugar/ °B) in the lab in the cellar, but we also taste the grapes. Chemical analysis will only tell you so much about the flavour development of the grapes, you have to spend time in the vineyard and taste the grapes to get the full picture.”
Another year, another #GrootCrush
Despite the dry conditions, Groot Constantia’s 2016 crush will still produce award-winning wine which shouldn’t come as a surprise on an estate that’s been producing world-renowned wine for over three centuries.
The 2015/16 season posed many challenges, but they’ve been met, and come March the winery will be filled with crushed grapes – the air thick with anticipation – and the wine press at the ready to add another vintage to Groot Constantia’s rich history.
What does your favourite Groot Constantia Vintage look like?
Take a picture of your favourite vintage of Groot Constantia wine, post it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #GrootCrush and stand a chance to win amazing prizes including a picnic for two on Groot Constantia’s famous rolling lawns!
Terms and conditions
Prizes are not redeemable for cash. The prize vouchers will be valid until June 2016. Must be redeemed at Groot Constantia Wine Estate, Cape Town, South Africa. Prize Voucher for Wine must be collected from the estate, i.e. Groot Constantia will not transport or deliver prizes to winners’ locations. This competition will run from 1 February 2016 to 30 March 2016.