January – Babysitting the Vines



January – Babysitting the Vines

A new year brings the promise of a new harvest and a new vintage.  While the whole of the country make their yearly exodus down to the coast the farm is busy preparing for the next couple of months – arguably the busiest of the year.

The weather can wreak havoc with the grapes in the summer months leading up to the harvest.  Too hot and all the water extracts from the grapes into the root system in order to protect itself from dehydration, too wet and the grapes can attract all kinds of diseases who loves the nice hot and humid environment in the shade of the leaves.  To get the right balance its important for the farm manager to be on site to adjust the level of irrigation whenever the weather changes – so no chance of a holiday for him (or her).

On the farm

On Kersfontien we use drip-irrigation which allows for consistent flow of water to keep the root system happy. It is not uncommon for temperatures to regularly soar into the 40’s during our summer months resulting in constant movement of moisture to and from the grapes that can cause compromised skin and unhealthy grapes – something we want to avoid at all cost. As long as the roots are happy, the grapes can spend their energy on developing the generous flavours we are waiting for instead of defending itself against the greedy roots.

Snakes and other creepy crawlies bring their own dynamic to the mix.  Every vineyard forms its own little ecosystem and the presence of some insects can tell you a lot about the health of the vines.  Good neighbours include lady bugs, spiders and wasps who all feed on the more harmful mites and worms that can have a devastating effect on the grapes if not kept at bay.  Unfortunately, the use of insecticide can kill off the goodies as well as the baddies and it is important to avoid this route as far as possible prior to and during the harvest.

Sometimes the vines might look like your back-yard after returning from holiday, full of weeds and undergrowth.  But don’t blame the team of laziness, this undergrowth is needed to protect the soils from drying out.  It’s a bit like a shade net for the roots, and it gives the snakes good hiding spots (yikes).

So, next time you spend your holiday on the beach sipping your ice-cold chardonnay, please spare a thought for the farmers who are busy ensuring that next year you can do the same.

New word:

Veraison – period in the vineyards annual life cycle when the grapes turn from green to red or, in the case of green grapes, translucent.  This is when the sugars start maturing and the grapes will be ready to harvest soon.  In South Africa, this happens any time from the middle of December to the end of January depending on the climate at the time.

Good reading: http://winefolly.com/review/veraison-when-grapes-turn-red/


Tanya Liebenberg

All stories by: Tanya Liebenberg