Angelo van Dyk
HARVEST REPORT 2023
Harvest 2023 will always be remembered as the one that felt ‘real’. For the longest time I’ve wrestled with a real imposter syndrome complex surrounding my winemaking journey, and I’ve struggled to embrace the idea of introducing myself as a ‘winemaker’, in the pure sense of the word. I’ll always need to lean on someone in South Africa to get the wines over the finish line, but this was a year where things felt a lot more in my hands than previous years. It finally feels like Yo El Rey is moving in a direction that has a clearer vision, both for the wines and for the bigger picture of the brand.
It was also the first year where all the fruit sourced was farmed without any chemical or synthetic products, something that philosophically has always been an important item on Yo El Rey’s agenda. I think my focus on making wines in a natural/ low intervention way has made me realise that this is a non-negotiable factor in ultimately producing wines of high quality. To expect natural yeasts to ferment fruit farmed conventionally (sprayed with herbicide, insecticide and fungicide) is a presumptuous ask, as all of the natural microbes and healthy flora has been destroyed in that farming exercise. Hence, sustainable or organic farming needs to be more of a prerequisite focus in this respect. One of the big findings I had during this year of fruit sourcing was just how scarce vineyards farmed properly actually are in South Africa. A topic for another blog post, but a sobering discovery.
Quality of the fruit aside, I think we also need to be more considerate of the impact that our decisions as business owners have on the world, and since we are dealing with an agricultural product in the form of wine, organic farming is an obvious first step for us in minimising the footprint we leave behind.
This year, Yo El Rey processed just shy of eight tons of grapes, and produced four wines. Our biggest harvest yet. It was a tricky growing season, with farmers struggling with downy and powdery mildew pressure in most regions, and then wrestling with weird heat waves and heavy downpours in the middle of it all. This caused a huge bottle neck in most cellars at a certain point, as grapes all came crashing in simultaneously, testing winemakers’ Tetris skills and putting huge strain on logistics networks and picking teams. 2023 will be a year that produces some serious and muscley wines. There are bound to be a few bruiser cuvées knocking about. Case in point, I got caught off guard by those few days of hellish heat, and happened to miss the window to pick the Bot River Grenache Noir, which came off way too late, and I’ve got a wine on my hands with a potential alcohol of around the 14.5% ABV mark. Phew, that wine is going to need taming.
There will be four cuvées produced in the 2023 vintage, a skin-macerated Sauvignon Blanc, a white Sauvignon Blanc, the Syrah rosé, and the red from Grenache Noir. Everything was barrel fermented and aged, and I’m probably the most excited about this vintage than I ever have been since starting this project in 2018.
I left South Africa in mid-March feeling really content about the state of the wines and the shape that they’re all in. Yo El Rey continues to evolve in terms of its style, and grow its market share, both in South Africa and further abroad. The next big business hurdle is going to be to find another export market for the wines, and if we can open those gates, well, things start to get interesting then. These wines will be ready for release in January/ February of 2024, so for now, we sit and wait, embrace the romance of patience, and allow time to do its thing.
– Angelo van Dyk