High Quality Vines
Vines are perennial plants and bear fruits for up to 30 years, sometimes even longer. There are a few winemakers that would swear on older vines as these have already proven their resistance and quality of flavour. Yet young plants can deliver exceptional wine, too; age is not the decisive criterion.
It is often underestimated that every vintage has a double effect. On the one hand on the grapes, meaning the actual vintage and the produced wine. Here, sunlight, health and rainfall at the right times are important. On the other hand, every vintage continues to have an effect on the next one. This is because the vine produces the new buds for next year in the same period in which it already carries fruits. This is exactly one of the reasons why wine from South Africa delivers such a constant quality as the variations are small in comparison to Europe.
In Spring, the Vine Takes the Required Energy
Over the course of the year, the vine draws the nutrients that are dissolved in water from the soil with its roots. In spring, the plants start to cry or bleed as it is called in vinicultural terminology; moisture comes out at the ends, which simultaneously indicates the start of the growth phase. A very important phase has begun because here, the foundation for a successful vintage of premium wine is laid.
The majority of the plant parts above the ground are woody; this is the stem and the two year-old shoots. The buds form the shoots amongst which some will develop grapes; others stay closed and open in the next year. Through photosynthesis, the growing vine leaves generate enough energy for producing up to one hundred aromas which later on go into the developing grapes. During this time, a healthy relation of sunlight and rainfall is immensely important. Without the required energy and nutrients, the best summer is for nothing. During the transition from winter to spring, South Africa experiences heavy rainfalls - the minerals are therefore dissolved when the first strong sunlight comes out. The vine therefore finds optimal conditions to ripen.
A good result can only be achieved when both parts of the vine above and below the ground are developed well. The roots have to be strong enough to reach the precious water; at the same time, the vine leaves have to provide an optimal absorption area for the sunlight. With little planting, experienced vintners increase the height of the foliage in order for less sunlight to reach the ground unused, as the ground would only heat up unnecessarily which could lead to water shortage. When planted densely, it can happen that the leaves obstruct each other; now, the winemaker has to cleverly interfere with the growth with removing some shoots during the vegetative phase, for example. This lets air into the vine, too. The denser the cultivation, the higher the effort and therefore the costs per hectare.
The Grape Ripening Makes for the Special Taste
During the grape ripening, sugar increasingly accumulates; at the same time, the growth phase of the vine stops. Water shortage accelerates this process; vice versa, that implies that too much water unwantedly shortens the grape ripening. A high amount of rainfall is damaging during this phase, also because a high humidity increases the risk of diseases and pests. South Africa’s summer is therefore ideal for wine as it is mostly dry and warm. Due to the ‘Cape Doctor’, the cooling breeze from the Atlantic, the temperatures on the vineyards stay within a perfect level.
Last but not least, the yield of the vines is important for the quality. Every vine has a specific amount of nutrients and aromas that it can supply the grapes with. If a vine has grown many grapes, it has to spread its nutrients and aromas more; in such case, every single grape receives less of these precious substances and becomes weaker. Lower concentrations of sugar, colour and flavour carriers are the result. Experienced vintners prevent this by early cutting off shoots and grapes. Of course, this leads to fewer grapes on each vine, hence a lower overall yield, but each individual grape is of a higher quality. Year after year, winemakers have to determine the optimal relation between yield and quality and implement it.