Trying Weather Conditions Result in Expressive Quality Vintage 2023 on Paul Clüver Family Wines

As a Burgundy acolyte, Andries Burger, winemaker of Paul Clüver Family Wines in Elgin, found renewed respect for the vignerons of that famous French wine region with this year’s challenging weather conditions Paul Clüver Family Wines experienced during vintage 2023. “Burgundy is known for steep variations from vintage to vintage due to the erratic weather conditions that differ every year in that part of the world,” says Burger. “The unexpected rainfall experienced in Elgin and throughout the Cape this year, seldom seen in our summer, gave me practical insight into what Burgundy goes through during harvest in terms of its ever-changing array of climatic challenges.”

After a dry winter and growing season on Paul Clüver Estate in 2022, the vineyard growing season commenced with even bud-break, flowering and veraison in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards, Paul Clüver’s flagship varieties. 

“Being the coolest wine-growing region in South Africa, with steep diurnal temperature differences, our vines were healthy, disease-free and heading for even stages of ripening predicting another quality vintage,” says Burger. “The 87mm of rain in December came at just the right time, refreshing the vines during their taxing growth stage and further cooling soils and air. Preventative spraying programmes had kept any thoughts of disease at bay and expectations were looking to be excellent.”

Harvesting on Paul Clüver Family Wines commenced in mid-February, slightly earlier than last year, but with the first batches of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay showing Elgin’s characteristic firm acids and accurate superb ripeness, with the Pinot Noir drawing deep garnet colour during fermentation.

It was about halfway through the harvest that the heavens opened in the first week of March. Some 43mm rainfall was measured over three days, delaying picking. “Fortunately, the rain did not result in any major damage in the vineyards, and the bunches held firm as they waited for picking to re-commence. Once the rain stopped and harvesting got underway once more, we found that both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were ripe, but at lower sugar levels than on average.”

Burger says that despite the lower sugar-levels averaging between 21.5°B and 22.5°B, the juice, fermenting grapes and just-fermented wines show extraordinary aromas. “It is as if the lower sugar allowed the fruit greater all round expression,” he says. “There is enormous varietal character, vivid flavour compounds and structure showing the usual elegance our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is known for, but with regal backbone and a visceral structure.”

With further rainfall now predicted for later in March, Burger and his team managed to get the Paul Clüver vineyards harvested before the heavy rain that fell in the week of 20 March which saw over 80mm pummelling down. 

“Fortunately, we were all done and dusted by then,” says Burger. “The quality of the batches picked after the first March rains showed us that getting the grapes as soon as possible was the right call. With all fruit being hand-selected, any substandard berries were removed, underscoring our ethos of stringent quality control.”

With some of the wines still undergoing their spontaneous fermentation and the young wines now in tank, foudre, barrel and concrete egg, we are really pleased with the prospect of a great vintage in terms of wine quality. But I would be lying if I said that, with the amount of curve-balls the summer rain gods sent our way, it was an easy harvest. It was challenging and nerve-wracking at times and showed that timing and decision-making are crucial during this most vital period of the wine-making cycle.”

Burger says one thing that has become noticeable in the vineyards of Paul Clüver Family Wines is the increase in bird activity. “Our programmes aimed at regenerative farming has resulted in a natural environment in the vineyards, with a lot of overall life,” he says. “This includes birds, who seem to fly in from far and wide to feast on ripening Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. As a result, we now cover the vines with nets to prevent them clearing the bunches or damaging the fruit with an investigative peck.”

As far as this year’s yields on Paul Clüver Family Wines are concerned, tonnage is slightly down. In light of the trying wet conditions, this is totally in-line with wine volumes we aim to release from an extraordinary vintage.”