2019 Harvest Report: Yo El Rey
BY ANGELO VAN DYK, Wine Manager, Bedales at Spitalfields / Winemaker, Yo El Rey wines
HARVEST 2019 WAS A WEIRD ONE.
It seems a strange sentence to profess, because admittedly I can’t even tell you why it was “weird”. Perhaps it’s because typically, the harvests I’ve worked previously require some kind of tension and chaos to permeate the very air you breathe for the duration of the two months you toil against the elements. I returned to South Africa teeming with discomfort and wracked with nerves about the months to follow. But in the end, 2019 simply had none of that.
I have a slightly masochistic side to me that feels that in order for one to truly have earned their gains, one needs to have struggled. That, if one hasn’t suffered, then one hasn’t really waded through the trenches, and that the experience is perhaps void of some sort of inherent gritty soul. In order to tell a true story, you seemingly need to earn your stripes through resilient mettle and determination. And in doing so, are able to bow before a crowd without hesitation and receive an authentic, rousing applause. I’m not sure why I think this. I’m sure my therapist has a few theories. I’ll remember to ask him next time.
For Yo El Rey, 2019 will always be remembered as a vintage that came and went without hassle. Both the Syrah and Grenache ripened when they needed to, were picked and transported on time without any hiccups, finished their ferments in good health and in good time, and were racked to barrel effortlessly. All of a sudden, I blinked and everything was done.
So, I find myself asking the question: did I truly earn 2019’s harvest? Perhaps it was earned, but in a way that I hadn’t experienced before embarking on my own winemaking journey. The challenges I faced this year presented themselves from beyond the confines of the winery, and it was these that proved to be incredibly tedious and testing. Financial snags, label designs, legislative ringers, logistical planning and personal wobbles all seemed to require far more of my emotional mediation than anything on the actual grape juice side of things. You quickly realise that your life is surreptitiously woven into the tapestry that is harvest, and one of the biggest hurdles one needs to leap is managing the balance of all these moving parts with a deft hand. I think I came out the other side slightly bruised, but unbowed. I’ll take it.
On a less sentimental note, 2019 will be a year with high quality wines, but there shall just be very little of it. The drought in the Western Cape has certainly loosened its grip on the throat of both agriculture, industry and general consumption, but that province is certainly not out of the red yet, and the effects are going to be far reaching. I spoke to many vignerons whose yields were down almost 50% because of water stress, and others who have had to change their range of wines because farmers are ripping up their ancient vineyard blocks in exchange for more profitable and fruitful crops. It’s a sad reality, but this drought will very likely reshape the face of the South African wine industry over the course of the next ten years.
The good women and men in the winelands need all the support they can get right now. Drink more South African wine, I say.
Follow Angelo on Instagram! @angelovdyk & @yoelreywines