Growing Good Grapes

“Good wine is made in the vineyard”. This is a phrase you often hear when you mix with winegrowers. My guess is that the winemaker in the cellar might want to articulate this idea slightly differently but it is a truism that you can’t make good wine from bad grapes. Unfortunately, it is possible to make bad wine from good grapes. But what are “good grapes”? I can’t pretend that I’m going to give you the answer but if you are a wine drinker, this is the most fascinating question of them all.

How is it possible that two vineyards within spitting distance of one another can produce wine that differs hugely in quality and character? Typically, good grapes are the fruit of the right marriage between cultivar and terroir, and the right practice in the vineyard. Terroir is an often-used term for the combination of soil-type, climate, elevation and slope. I think we have great terroir. Our farm slopes south so it is well-drained, and the climate is cool. The soil approximates very closely to the soils of the best Pinot areas in South Africa.

So, to get good grapes you need to find the cultivar that achieves the best expression of the place where you have planted it. This can be a really slow process. Winegrowers are often great experimenters and innovators. They are always wondering what a different cultivar might do on a particular slope, and what the wine might be like if their rows were closer together or further apart, or running East-West instead of North-South. What if we irrigated? What if we do a fifty percent crop reduction? What if we blend in 5% of another cultivar or clone? What if we pick one block earlier and blend it in? Keep it longer in the barrel? Use more new wood? Hold it back for a year longer? There is an almost infinite number of variables that can make real differences to quality and character.