The Work on the Vineyard
Noble grapes require meticulous care all year round. The labour on the soil and vegetation is doubly important due to the effect of one vintage on the following one. The work on the vineyard can be divided into three big sections; the vintners work intensely on each during a certain period. These sections are the ground, the work on the vine and the grape harvest.
The Soil Needs to Live
When working on the soil of the vineyard, winemakers mainly have to fertilize, water and prevent or control pests. A well aired soil is essential for the nutrient balance in the soil. This is why the ground needs to be ploughed and slightly dug over. Fertilizers have a double significance; on the one hand, they feed the soil with nutrients for the vine in case of shortage. On the other hand, the microorganisms should not be neglected: only a living soil is healthy and can ensure a balanced amount of nutrients. Simultaneously, it naturally protects well against root diseases and pests.
In South Africa, work on the soil mostly takes place in autumn and spring. In autumn, small sand piles are formed around the vines’ stems as a protection against frost; these piles need to be removed in spring to prevent unwanted and undirected growth. Additionally, the vintners have to prevent erosion through a plant cover, for example. This leads to new problems though as such new plantings increase the water and nutrient competition amongst the plants and at locations prone to late frost, the risk of frost damages is increased due to the higher humidity. As always, there is no ideal solution for such a complex subject like wine growing - every vintner and every winery has to decide, depending on the location, which job on the vineyard has to be done when and how in order to deliver true premium wine from South Africa.
Mending and Trimming of the Vine
What is done to the vine significantly affects the quantity and quality of each harvest. In winter, South Africa’s winemakers repair damaged wires and trellises, sometimes whole posts have to be exchanged. In spring, the beginning of the growth phase, surplus shoots are removed in order to get truly high quality yields and to not dilute the wine. The greatly full-bodied and strong wine from South Africa, but also the crisp white wine impressively show that the local winemakers know their trade. Eventually, the tendrils have to be tied up using trellis wire, so that nothing of the precious sunlight stays unused. One can simply trim excess foliage and even remove grapes until shortly before the grape ripening to further optimise the relation of quality and quantity of the yield.
Harvesting by Hand for Exceptional Wine in South Africa
In South Africa, most wineries’ vintners have settled for the manual harvest. Only when picking the grapes by hand you can be sure to use the gentlest procedure possible. Machines do work faster yet they have some serious disadvantages such as insufficient selection and damage of the vines. Sometimes, harvesting by hand is the only possible and therefore practical solution for bringing in the grapes: steep slopes and dense planting make the use of large and heavy machines impossible. Manual harvest leaves the grapes unscathed, and when stored in boxes, the juice of the grapes that inevitably burst can drain away freely. This prevents the damage of the other grapes through immoderate oxidation. When picking the grapes by hand, grapes that are not fully ripened, damaged or even diseased can be weeded out. Vintners in South Africa can also prevent having unwanted elements such as insects or dirt in their wine.