The 2020 vintage will go down as one of those years in which the winemakers saw it all: A magnificent growing season due to the cool, mild conditions during the spring and early summer of 2019. This lead to even bud-break, flowering and bunch formation. The weather, however, took another turn during Christmas when Durbanville looked as if it had been hit by one of those famous winter Cape Cold Fronts, with cold temperatures, grey skies and rain. Fortunately canopy-management and other preventative measures kept vineyards disease-free, the rain cooling the soil and freshening the plants.
Once harvest got under way early in January, temperatures climbed, with some unexpected intermittent patches of rain. But from mid-January Diemersdal experienced a true Cape summer: sun, warm weather and a bit of south-easterly wind – ideal.
Despite the vagaries in temperatures and general conditions, Diemersdal’s crop showed even-ripening. This has a lot to do with the estate’s vines being unirrigated, dryland plants that are better suited to handle the dry conditions to which the Cape has been subjected over the past five years.
Harvesting began in the second week of January, the first grapes showing brisk acidity and assertive varietal characters, with balanced chemistry. The first Sauvignon Blanc wines exuded zest and freshness along with delectable tropical notes of gooseberry and passion-fruit, indications of a fine year for this variety for which Diemersdal has become renowned for. The health of fruit, focused variety expression and overall balance was also seen in the estate’s other white varieties, namely Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner.
The reason for the health of grapes and in yield can once again be attributed to the Diemersdal’s 200ha of vineyard being unirrigated. Diemersdal has been farming dryland vineyards for generations. Together with the relatively cool climate Durbanville experiences, the natural conditions under which the vines’ growth-cycle ensues is what characterises Diemersdal’s quality of fruit and the varietal expression seen in the resulting wines.
The roots of unirrigated vines run deep, able to access deep-lying moisture and coolness when the shallow soils are parched and hot. And due to the vines knowing they are not going to be spoilt by irrigation programmes they build-up a resilience to dry conditions, hence the relatively minimal effects of an otherwise devastating drought the Cape Winelands experienced over the past few years.
On the red side, vintage 2020 saw health of grapes complemented by health in yields. Pinotage – Diemersdal’s famous red grape and an early-ripening variety – showed fresh and bright flavours as the wine is currently mellowing in French oak, as are the estate’s other red varieties.
One of the features of this vintage was the absence of real heat-waves in the vineyards during the early stages of ripening. This especially benefited the red varieties through extended hang-time on the vine, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz showing evolved complexity and solid varietal characters. The health of the red grapes were underscored by the analyses of the young wines, which are showing excellent balance between sugar and acidity with perfect pH levels.
While the white wines of this vintage are characterised by freshness and bright acids, the red wines are deep, mellow and powerful – allowing Diemersdal to this year show the best of both worlds.
To round off a very good vintage, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes for Diemersdal Noble Late Harvest went into a perfect state of botrytis (noble rot) for the making of this style of decadently sweet wine. These grapes were harvested mid-April, with the general Diemersdal vintage ending on 23 March.