Are you familiar with the idea of responsible farming?
Do you actively seek out eco-friendly wine farms?
Is wine making a sustainable practice?
Sustainability, the new, hot buzzword of our time.
In 2006, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth directed by Davis Guggenheim about former United States Vice President Al Gore’s campaign on global warming stirred up great controversy in the media! Until then, there was a low level of awareness in environmental conservation… You might have heard about the ozone hole above Australia – so you remembered to wear more sunscreen lotion before heading out to the beach. Today? Climate change is affecting your pockets directly, with the rising cost of food, electricity, and petrol!
How does this relate to winemaking? I wasn’t too sure myself, so I spent an afternoon with Floricius Beukes, Viticulturist and Estate Manager at Groot Constantia to learn more!
Lisa: You are always in the vines, Flor! Isn’t Spring the “slow season” for winemaking?
Flor: (chuckles) Are you kidding? It’s always busy in the vines, Lisa! We just came out of a very wet winter season, planting new vines in the ground and the green tips are beginning to break out from the buds. We are busy with canopy management now – where our farm workers are pruning each vine by hand, a tradition of Groot Constantia for the past 329 years!
Lisa: Pruning by hand? But there are… over 90 hectares under vines in Groot Constantia!
Flor: I told you there’s no time for rest in the vines! We maintain the tradition to prune by hand, because this ensures the quality of our vines, yield and final harvest. Each vine is examined carefully, leaving only 2 “eyes” or buds on each branch. This way, there will be enough space for the new leaves to unfold, flower and produce ripe berries. Did you know that grapevines only bear fruits from the second year onwards? This is why Spring is such an important season, it lays the foundation for Groot Constantia’s best wines.
Lisa: I see, it is an amazing tradition carried over for over three centuries! Is Groot Constantia’s vineyard a living museum for South Africa’s wines then?
Flor: It is, and we are always learning about eco-agriculture, also known as responsible farming methods. With any living plants, there is a natural cycle. Our vines grow, fruit, and wilt over the four seasons. After each harvest, there are plenty of cellar wastes – the grape skins, pips, stalks and more. All of these waste, combined with alien plant species removed from the farm are made into giant compost piles. We make our compost on the farm, which turn into organic fertilizers for our vines and gardens.
Lisa: With organic composts, do you find lots of insects on the farm?
Flor: Oh the bugs cause me so much headache! Vine mealybug are our biggest problem – they live on grape vines and carries a disease that will make vine leaves “roll”. If you remember you matric biology class, plant leaves have chlorophyll which converts sunlight into fuel for the plants to grow. When vine leaves “roll up,” they won’t grow as well! A funny fact, mealybugs produce sticky, waxy honeydew to attract ants. The ants eat these honey, and in return massages the mealybugs… aren’t they clever?
In Constantia, we get an average of over 1000mm of rainfall a year…! The dampness increase spread of fungus for the local wine farms, and we also cannot spray herbicide effectively. Come, let me show you what we do instead.
(we jumped on the back of Flor’s trusted Spider- his quad bike into the vineyard!)
Flor: We have these “yellow houses” around the vines, they are insect trap that uses pheromones to lure bugs into the house. For the past 8-9 years, we have also introduced ladybugs to the farm to help control mealybug population. These are all eco-friendly pest controls, minimizing our impact on the environment.
Lisa: It is wonderful to see how passionate you are, and to learn more about Groot Constantia’s focus on sustainability and responsible farming. Thank you for showing me around the vines Flor!
Curious? Are you fascinated by Groot Constantia’s eco-friendly wine making process? Book a wine tasting experience and you just might bump into Flor among the vines!
Written by Lisa Huang