Cathedral Cellar Reflects on Harvest 2023

Cathedral Cellar

As sure as grapes become wine, their vinous journey from budburst to bottle is no small feat, and the 2023 harvest attests to this. At Cathedral Cellar this annual journey reaches its crescendo in autumn when the final grapes are brought to its eponymous cellar at KWV. This moment also marks a key transition in the winemaking journey, as the proverbial ‘baton’ is passed from the vineyard team to the cellar team – when the hope and hive of activity of harvest turn to a time of settling and ageing in the cellar.

Water into wine

The 2023 harvest for Cathedral Cellar started on 9 January. It concluded on 29 March, requiring nearly three months of constant attentiveness, traversing various regions in the Western Cape to observe intricate details and changes. KWV’s Chief Viticulturist, Marco Ventrella, says that the 2023 harvest was a vintage “driven by water”. This precious resource makes wine possible and experienced hands like Marco and its team know how to preserve supply for the vines – but those who work with the vine also know that nothing is ever guaranteed.

For Ventrella, the 2023 harvest started with fertilisation in April 2022, mulching and sowing cover crops to ensure enough organic material in the soil to feed the microbes. “Thank goodness for a good cover crop; otherwise, the 2023 yields would’ve been drastically lower, as the 2022 winter was potentially drier than the peak of the drought we have experienced over the last decade in South Africa.”

And while the Cape went into its winter slumber last year, viticultural practices continued with pruning in July and August, suckering (removing weak or poorly located shoots) in September, leaf breaking and bunch thinning in November and December, until the first grapes were ripe for the picking on 9 January this year.

“The actual dam in the Western Cape is the soil,” explains Ventrella. So, when we receive 50% less water than we hoped for during the previous year, we start a vintage with a water deficit, leading to an earlier onset of vine stress that can quickly complicate the season. As a result, in 2023, we ended up with much smaller berries and bunches and a considerably lighter yield – arguably the smallest we’ve seen in 15 years. For some, the December rain meant unforeseen damage. But, for the most part, it had a positive result for us at KWV and Cathedral Cellars, bringing much needed relief to the dryland vineyards of Darling and the Swartland.”

And then, just as everything was running like clockwork, with the new moon came torrential rains with dry spells in between before the heavens once again drenched the earth. “These rains seriously stuck the cat among the pigeons, compelling us to wait for the sugars to come up and the vineyards to dry before making our next move. Thankfully, the water bearer spared us a break to bring in the last fruit before rot or disease could set in, and we wrapped up the harvest on a healthy and physiologically ripe note,” says Ventrella.

Settling and maturing: stories unfold in the cellar

Judging by the young wine in the cellar, the expanded areas from which Cathedral Cellar sources grapes produced fantastic fruit, says Cathedral Cellar Chief Winemaker, Justin Corrans. “Preceded by a cool season, we are excited about the aromatic white wines. The Sauvignon Blanc looks fantastic, and the fruit already shared that provocative pungency in the vineyards. Chardonnay lovers can look forward to wines with great palate weight and ageability. Regarding red wines, I am particularly excited about Cabernet Sauvignon, which will continue its legacy as the king of red grapes” added Ventrella.

“Harvest is the opening paragraph to a wine’s story,” says Cathedral Cellar Brand Manager, Tanya Blokdyk, “that is why a time of thanksgiving to every hand, raindrop and healthy berry is vital to embrace the year and each wine to follow from this harvest. With the harvest chapter concluded for now, we are looking forward to the wines’ development in cellar as the rest of their stories unfold.”

To highlight this time of thanks, Cathedral Cellar Ambassador Chef, Mynhardt Joubert, was asked to develop a series of recipes to highlight the qualities of this exquisite range of wines.

A feast of thanks

Inspired by the spirit of harvest and in true generous form, Chef Mynhardt developed a feast that can only evoke gratitude. His menu includes Italian-style schiacciata bread (made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes), iconic curried pickled yellowtail, white-wine infused Provençal lamb shanks with green olives and artichokes, as well decadent Pinotage chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache and sea salt.

“Each of these dishes relates a very special story”, says Mynhardt, “the schiacciata flatbread, evokes a sense of togetherness, as guests need to break a piece from the bread and share around the table. The pickled fish has such a deep-rooted cultural base in our South African society, and its smell so synonymous with Easter and its familial connection. A dish of hearty lamb shank heralds the colder winter months, and it is such a fitting meal to have in autumn as we bid farewell to summer. Lastly, the Pinotage cake is just a magical dish that will remain in the minds of diners long after they’ve left the table!”

Social media 2023 harvest Campaign

For those who followed Cathedral Cellar’s social media campaign during harvest, thank you for your continued interest in following our journey from vine to cellar. And if you have missed it, we invite you to go and watch these one-minute videos and delight in the knowledge that Ventrella shares live from the vineyards. So, whether shot on a clear morning with trellised canopies etched against powder blue skies, amidst old bush vines sheltering themself with unruly vine shoots or walking through misty conditions, you are guaranteed invaluable information to share at your next dinner party. Of course, while opening your favourite bottle of Cathedral Cellar wine.

Follow Cathedral Cellar on @KWV_CathedralCellar

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