Farm Manager Christiaan Loots shares our 2016 vintage report.
2015 Winter & Soil Preparation:
The Cape did not experience a very cold winter, with near perfect days lingering at 20 degrees Celsius. The evenings were cold, but not excessively so.
On the mountains, we only saw a little bit of snow on the tips – with little to no rainfall during this period – which caused a lot of panic in the agricultural industry. It was the driest winter that we have seen in a long time.
At that stage, we knew that we had to lend the vineyards an extra helping hand by spraying more of the biodynamic ‘Preparation 500’ onto the soil to add more mycorrhizal fungi, humus and natural carbon sources to it. We followed traditional biodynamic methods to produce this, by putting our cow manure into cow horns and burying it in the soil for about 7 months during the previous autumn/winter period.
By making these preperates, we ensure that our soil is naturally rich in earthworms and other insects. It also helps to create more top soil, so that the roots can access water more freely under dry conditions. We also plant cover crops, which add a natural source of nitrogen which is then worked back into the soil and processed by the prevalent bacteria, so that the vineyard is able to take it up by the roots.
2015/2016 Growing Period:
We saw budburst occurring at the beginning of September, which was definitely a bit earlier than usual. It was a proper spring, with lots of sunshine and warm temperatures. As soon as the buds started to develop, we sprayed even more natural bio fertilisers – all produced here on the farm – onto the leaves, which ensured that the vineyards had all the support they needed during the growing season.
One example is the fish emulsion which is produced from our kitchen’s fish offcuts and photolytic bacteria. This is then fermented to a concentrate rich in trace minerals. Another example of adding a basic source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is to ferment chicken manure and spray this onto the leaves.
All of the above methods are used to assist our vines through the dry growing conditions. Since I’ve started working at Waterkloof in 2004, this was certainly one of the most challenging seasons to date.
We started picking a week earlier than last year (which was already early). A lot of the Stellenbosch/Helderberg producers were significantly down on crop (some up to 50%). Thanks to our biodynamic farming methods, our vines have healthy roots that happily dig into the soil at a depth of six meters – compared to conventional ones that usually grow just up to one meter under the ground – and therefore our yields were not affected.
With the berries being remarkably small this year, the flavours were fantastic. We saw some raisins still developing on the later varietals, but sorted through them in the cellar. The skins on the reds were thicker than normal, but also with great concentration.
Let’s chat again once the wine is in the bottle!