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Alto Wine Estate, the iconic Stellenbosch wine farm set on the Helderberg, saw its 2024 grape harvest delivering fruit of immense concentration as the dry summer resulted in small berries of excellent flavour and colour due to an outstanding skin-to-juice ratio.

Bertho van der Westhuizen, Alto winemaker, says 2024 looks set to deliver superb wines due to the fruit concentration leading to optimal expression of the farm’s distinctive terroir. Despite the general consensus that this year’s harvest dates in the Cape winelands varied from the norm, Alto’s regime was bang on song as per usual dates. Although Merlot was harvested slightly earlier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Shiraz were picked in synch with the yearly average.

“On average, we finish our harvest just after 20 March, so in that regard, this year was close to spot-on as we finished on 22 March,” says Van der Westhuizen. “What truly captivates me about this vintage is the unique nature of this harvest. All our cultivars delivered smaller bunches with small and very concentrated berries. This ensured great flavour and remarkable colour because of the skin-to-juice ratio. The young wines, just fermented, are like an iron fist in a velvet glove, presenting power and elegance, which is a unique and exciting characteristic of this year's harvest.

“While it may be premature to make definitive statements yet, the potential for producing our flagship M.P.H.S. from this year's harvest is undeniably promising, an indication of the quality we are seeing.”

The M.P.H.S., the pinnacle of the Alto range, it is only crafted from the most outstanding vintages, and this year's harvest certainly seems to fit the bill.

“In general, all bunches arrived at the cellar in somewhat cooler conditions during harvest time, with early analyses immediately pointing to the exceptional flavour,” he says. “This is also because of the slightly warmer, drier weather throughout the growing season, which was complemented by the cooling effect of the southeaster winds at the end of 2023 running down from the summit of the Helderberg and down the slopes of Alto. The mountain breaks the force of the wind, but the subtler air flow tumbling down the slopes still effectively cooled the vines.  This resulted in earlier ripening than in the 2023 season.”

Merlot, which plays a pivotal part in the renowned Alto Rouge blend, was the first cultivar to hit the harvest bins. This year’s Merlot is characterised by even ripening, which was helped by the cooler evenings during the growing season and leading up to picking. “Great colour, good concentration and flavour…this year showed that Stellenbosch can do Merlot really well,” says Van der Westhuizen. “The 20 mm of rain we had in February cooled down everything, with the cool evenings and average daytime temperature all playing a role in the exceptional outcome and laying the foundation for good tannin maturation.”

Cabernet Franc was harvested at the end of February, presenting excellent aromas and fantastic mouthfeel.  

“By 18 March, all our Shiraz was pressed, and malolactic fermentation started,” says Van der Westhuizen, “while the sunny summer weather in March ensured optimal ripening conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon, the cornerstone of Alto. As in most of the Winelands, yields on Alto were down, but what we lost in volume was gained in superb varietal expression, concentration, and perfect balances between sugar and acid, with pH levels ensuring wines of structure.”