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Viticulture in the South African Wine Industry

The wine industry in South Africa is undergoing an exciting period of change, both in the vineyard and in the winery. Winemakers are experimenting with new varieties of vine, as well as new clones of existing varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Large-scale experimentation with rootstocks is taking place to establish which planting material is particularly suited to conditions at the Cape, co-ordinated by the Vine Improvement Board.

As in other New World countries, viticulturists are hard at work matching vine varieties to soils and meso-climates in order to achieve the best results. Vineyard life in South Africa is similar to Europe’s although South Africa’s viticultural year starts in September. While preparations for the vintage are being made in Europe, the vines in South Africa are just beginning to bud.

Once buds have formed, the vines must be kept free from pest, disease and weed, and are often pruned if growth becomes too vigorous. Flowering normally takes place in November and in December the young grapes start to swell and grow. At this stage the vines are often ‘topped’ to improve air circulation around the grapes and thus minimise the risk of fungus or rot.

January in the Cape heralds the beginning of summer and, as the temperatures increase, early grape varieties start to ripen. The bulk of the harvest takes place in February and the sugar/acid ratio of the grapes is checked daily so that each variety is harvested at optimum ripeness.

In most South African vineyards harvesting is carried out by hand, although machines are used on some farms. The grapes are picked into baskets and transported in bins to the winery where vinification starts.

Viticulture Practices:

Viticulture involves practices such as soil preparation and tilling, growing and planting of varieties, trellising and pruning of vines, and combating disease.

Along with the type of variety chosen, soil, climate and winemaking techniques, these vital practices are the main factors which determine the quality and character of a wine.

When a vineyard is established, it is vital that a thorough study is made of the soil and climatic conditions to ensure that the most suitable cultivation methods are chosen. Thorough soil preparation is essential to make an environment for plant roots in which air and moisture are kept in the right proportion to solid material, and to ensure that there is sufficient nutrition to promote the best growth and production.

The choice of variety will depend on the composition of the soil, the climate, where the vineyard is situated and what kind of wine is desired. Varieties bearing heavier harvests are generally planted in areas under irrigation. In cooler regions, and where the soil is not very fertile, varieties which grow less densely are planted, as well as those that produce smaller but higher quality harvests.

Previously it was generally accepted that the higher the yield, the lower the quality of wine and vice versa. Research has shown this approach is not quite right. Of fantastic importance is the balance between leaves, which function effectively because of excellent exposure to sunlight and the quantity of grapes harvested. When there are not enough functioning leaves to sustain a large crop, the quality will be lower.

Vines are climbing plants and are suitable for trellising. Stronger growing plants are usually trellised and can carry heavier harvests. As bunches hang higher off the ground, there is less chance of rot as a result of damp. The choice whether to trellis at all, and the type of trellising system used, is determined by the soil potential, variety, climate, growth and vigour of the vines. In areas where frost hurt is prevalent trellising is required, while dry land vineyards with a weaker growth are often not trellised.

Gerald Crawford was born in South Africa, studied electronics, telecommunication, eco-travel and african travel concepts. He taught responsible tourism in South Africa. If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me on. E-mail Address: mailto:southafricantravelarticles@12234455.co.za southafricantravelarticles@12234455.co.za Website Address: 12234455.co.za 12234455.co.za

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