Porseleinberg Vintage 2021 – all about winter rains, summer heat and predictions

Porseleinberg winery is perched high on top of “Porcelain Mountain”, a rugged outcrop near Riebeek Kasteel in the Swartland.   To get to the winery is an adventure in itself, especially if you are a first-time visitor; the views and the wine make it all worth the effort though.

The reputation of Porseleinberg wines has grown steadily over the past few years and the wines from this enigmatic winery have a cult following amidst avid wine enthusiasts.     Porseleinberg Syrah is currently the highest rated Syrah in South Africa with 5-star ratings awarded in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide of 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2021.    Last year the acclaimed and well known international wine journalist, Tim Atkin, awarded the Porseleinberg 2018 Syrah an almost unheard of score of 100 points and he rated the wine as the overall Red Wine of the Year in his annual South African report.  (Tim Atkin South African Report 2020)

Porseleinberg:  The top Hilltop farm in the Swartland that yields South Africa’s most epic Syrah

 Winemaker Callie Louw is somewhat of an enigma – a down-to-earth no-fuss, no-nonsense kind of guy.   In the extreme terroir of Porseleinberg he manages with little intervention as possible to annually produce a truly unique Syrah with tremendous character and a remarkably Rhone-like structure.

“I think agteros kom ook in die kraal is this year’s motto,” said Callie Louw, when recently asked about the 2021 vintage.   “Most of the crop is still on the vines. Normally I would have been finished harvesting by now.   Harvest is much later this year with big lulls in between picking the different vineyards.”

Agteros kom ook in die kraal…most of the grapes are still on the vines

All about winter rains and summer heat

Porseleinberg experienced good winter rains in 2020, but it was still about 50mm below the average rainfall for the year.    According to Callie the average rainfall for the past 6 years was +-350mm instead of the +-450mm per annum received on the farm in the past.    Fortunately, most of the dams in the area were full after winter, which was a great relief, heading into the coming warm and drier months. 

The end of the vines’ winter dormancy period was signalled with bud break in mid-September; but, it was very uneven. This was seen more so in the trellised vines than in the bush vines.

The humidity was high and with less wind than is normally experienced, resulting in a challenging year in terms of disease management with Downy Mildew being a constant threat.    Fortunately, the warmer days in October were a reprieve and this helped with disease relief, but it soon went back to cool, wind still days.  

“We had some heat at the end of January and early February as well as a few days during picking, but this must have been the coolest growing season that I have ever experienced during my time here in the Swartland.” says Callie. “With 60% of my crop still on the vines, the Goldmine vineyard will only be picked in March, which will be a first being this late in the harvest season.”

Winemaker Callie Louw behind the wheel of his favourite John Deere tractor

And predictions for the 2021 vintage

The first vines on Porseleinberg were planted back in 2010 and this year will be the first year that all the crops are bearing fruit.    To date, the seasonal crop seems larger than average and the quality looks very good.    Callie acknowledges that he is not one for making predictions, but he is confident that 2021 will turn out to be a great vintage resulting in long lived wines of excellent quality.

Porseleinberg is in the 2nd year of converting to organic farming in the vineyards and Callie recons that both farmlands will be certified organic by 2023.

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