It’s prime Cape Chardonnay harvest season at Louisvale Wines, and we’re super excited about what the future holds for the delicious vintages just being born. What do you know about the wine harvesting process? Here’s a fun guide from the Master Vinters at Louisvale- the more you know, the more you’ll enjoy your next crisp and delicious bottle of Louisvale Chardonnay.

A Grape for All Seasons

Here in South Africa, the grape harvesting season for wines can stretch from January to April. Most Chardonnay cultivars are ready in February, and this year is no exception. There’s always a fine art to deciding when to bring in grapes, based on the flavour, acidity, and sweetness they’ve developed during the growing season. It’s an exciting time, the culmination of a lot of hard work from many people.

Here in South Africa, we pick the vines by hand. This lets the picker control the process perfectly, sorting only the best grapes to go into the barrel. It’s also kinder on the vines, as machines can cause a lot of accidental damage. Of course, working the field is a tough time, so every grape will still go onto the sorting table. Any overripe or underripe grapes that made it into the mix will be removed and discarded.

While we’re sliding into autumn, it’s still very hot weather here, so picking means some very early mornings for everyone. By the heat of midday, it’s not great for the pickers or the grapes. Grapes are picked in bunches, being loaded into baskets to haul to the cool cellar.

Welcome to the Cellar

Once the grapes are sorted, they head to the crush pad. In history, grapes were crushed by foot-stomping them, but luckily today we can use machines for a more consistent and hygienic process. In fact, there’s few places cleaner than a cellar at harvest time!

Here they are destemmed, crushed, pumped over, and monitored as they progress through this busy stage of development. White grapes, like with Cape Chardonnay, are crushed with seeds, skins, and solids separated. This reduces the tannin in the wine. Other varieties, especially red wines, could have the skins or seeds left in to ferment with them.

Through it all, there’s constant monitoring of taste, sugar, acid, ester, and many other items as even the tiniest thing can affect the end taste.

Fun Fermenting

Finally, the grapes are ready to start their journey into wine. Fruit sugars ferment well, as homebrewers know, and can start in as little as 6 hours post-crush. Some wines have yeast added to speed the process, and wild yeast, or yeast produced by the grape juice itself, is often favoured. 

In a commercial concern, great care is taken to monitor this process to ensure safety and consistency. For some wines, notably sparkling styles, there could be a second fermentation in the bottle to create the magnificent Methode Cap Classique, or MCC, wines.

It’s a long journey from harvest to your table, but a fascinating one. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek under the curtain to the bones of your favourite Louisvale Wines- and are looking forward to the fruits of the 2022 Louisvale harvest, too!