The vine plant, Vitis vinifera, is capable of growing and producing grapes all over the world.
When planted in fertile, irrigated soils, vines usually grow with unbelievable vigour. High vigour can lead to a host of negative effects on grape and wine quality.
The golden rule is to induce moderate growth by making the correct long-term vineyard establishment choices. This includes choice of rootstock, cultivar, plant spacing and trellis system.
Producing low yields of good grapes is one factor, but depth of soil, composition, water-holding capacity and drainage, as well as the presence of organic matter, are just some of the other determining the personality of the vines and the nature of the grapes.
All current vineyards planted at Kanonkop were thoroughly planned in advance with the help of specialists in various agricultural fields.
The ultimate goal is to achieve a balanced vine with just the right amount of leaf coverage to fully ripen the number of grape bunches.
Vine growth is managed to ensure smaller yields, but within those yields the grapes are finely structured and concentrated to ensure a quality of fruit capable of expressing the excellence required to make good wine.
Trellised vineyards on Kanonkop with the majestic Simonsberg in the background
Altitude: 180m – 365m above sea level
Area planted with vines: 95 hectares (235 acres)
- Pinotage – 50%
- Cabernet Sauvignon – 35%
- Cabernet Franc – 7.5%
- Merlot – 7.5%
Seasons of the vine
Winter cover crops create a harmonious environment
- After the harvest, it is time for the vines to rest and replenish their energy reserves.
- A post-harvest irrigation and fertilisation is carried out at this stage.
- By May, the vines are naked, and with the first rains about, up to seven types of cover crops (e.g. fava beans and clover) are planted between the vines:
- to protect the soils from the impact of heavy rain, particularly on slopes where downpours can lead to soil run-off
- to help build natural organic matter and thus stimulating microbiological life which improves the vines’ ability to absorb nutrients from the soil
- to act as a mulch, helping the soil to retain moisture
- During the height of winter (July – August), the vines are pruned. Old wood is removed, ensuring healthy vineyard growth in spring.
- All pruning is done by hand, and battery packs power electric secateurs to facilitate the process.
- During pruning, the shoots are cut back to determine the spurs for the new season’s grape formation.
- Small yields of 4 – 6 tons per hectare imply a commitment to quality.
- Vineyard planting densities vary:
- Pinotage bush vines are planted at 3 600 vines per hectare; the higher slopes hold 3 300
- Cabernet Sauvignon blocks have as many as 4 000 vines a hectare
- Pinotage bush vines: 6 – 8 canes are left on each vine, each cane pruned to spurs; each spur will bear two shoots producing two bunches each.
- Trellised vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 6 – 8 spurs per metre cordons are allowed; each spur will bear two shoots producing two bunches each.
As the storm clouds of winter gather, the bare vines enter a period of rest
- Towards the end of August the buds begin to break, pushing out their new shoots and leaves
- Pinotage is first out of the blocks, followed by Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc
- Within days, shoots expand, leaves unfold and tiny grape bunches make their appearance
- Suckering, which is the removal of excess young growing shoots, is critical at this stage to enable the remaining shoots to contribute towards forming a canopy of desired density
- In October and November, the vineyards flower – delicate grey-white inflorescences that will become bunches of grapes; these lie at the base of the shoots, on the opposite side of the leaves
- At this stage flowering bunches are extremely susceptible to fungal infection, wind and rain
- In late November to early December, after flowering, the small caviar-sized berries start to increase in size until they become a tight bunch, a stage known as berry set.
- With the shoots and leaves continuing to grow, the vineyard is once again filled with workers removing unwanted growth (suckering).
- Where needed, shoots are tucked between foliage wires to manage the canopy of leaf growth and ensure the ripening of the bunches is controlled by receiving the correct amount of sunlight
- Bunches also have to be protected from excessive sun exposure
- Towards the end of December and beginning of January, veraison occurs in the Pinotage bunches, the green berries beginning to show a hue of dark red, an indication that grapes are now beginning to ripen as the sugar levels increase.
- Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc will show veraison later in January.