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The 2024 harvest at the central red wine icon of Stellenbosch’s “Golden Triangle”, Alto Estate, started between 10 – 14 days earlier than the average harvest date of previous years. The more than 900mm of rain – the most since 2013 – laid the foundation for sturdy growth in the vineyards after the mid-year resting period, with all cultivars showing high energy levels that were built up during the winter months, says Alto’s cellarmaster Bertho van der Westhuizen. 

“The favourable conditions during the growth months, which followed the cold and wet winter, resulted in extremely healthy vines, with budding, flowering and berry composition showing uniformity and consistency,” he says. “This consistency in the vineyard was seen throughout the farm’s altitude variation, where the terroir of Alto ranges from 100 to 500 meters above sea level. During the mild spring and early summer, the vines, planted on ancient decomposed granite, benefitted from the generous late-afternoon sun on our north-west facing slopes.”

These conditions guaranteed good concentration and exceptional colour in the grapes, with the cooling False Bay sea-breezes blowing in from a mere 12 kilometres off nearby False Bay, increasing the hanging time on the vine to ensure phenolic ripeness and gentle tannins.

According to Bertho, the consistent fresh summer breezes and warm daytime temperatures of January led to bunches being looser and lighter, with no extreme bunch closure, adding to healthy grapes in general. “The excellent balance between the ample sunlight we receive, warm temperatures at the right stages of ripening time and cool nights all helped with retaining acidity, as well as ensuring grapes of exceptional colour with developed complexity and rich flavours.”

All five varieties grown on Alto – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Merlot and Petit Verdot, experienced even growth and ripening, with the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz typified by exceptional colour and true expression of Alto terroir.

“Our soils were put through their paces last year in terms of drainage when the heavy rain fell in March and September, and the drainage was complemented by good air circulation, profiting from the cool Cape Doctor southern winds from the Atlantic Ocean. The altitude range allows for a range of microclimates within the 92 hectares of Alto vines seeing the different grape varieties planted on specially identified blocks on the estate, with the Cabernet Sauvignon – the farm’s backbone-variety - especially excelling on the highest slopes.” 

With the Alto harvest currently in full swing, Bertho says the fermenting juice and young wines are showing exceptional promise.

“Deep garnet colour is a feature of all our wines, and the smaller berries covered by thicker skins ensured fantastic hues in this year’s wines,” he says. “A stand-out thus far are the aromatics, especially on Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The nose is one of the winemaker’s most important tools, and the aromas I have experienced working with this year’s fermenting juice and young wines are truly exceptional,” he says. “Being a red wine farm, still in the throes of harvest, these are early days yet, but I am really happy with what I am seeing, especially as I know that the best is still to come as the wines make their way further down the line of vintage 2024.”