I’d like to explore some of the ideas and experiences that I had yesterday on a visit to the winery Quoin Rock in more detail later, but a few preliminary remarks since it was a stimulating day – in the sense that much is usually the same but with a different face in the winelands.
The essential quality that I responded to here was the sense that, while many producers talk about changing their conventional approaches to vineyard management, much of this is lip service and when the time comes they spray chemicals to encourage bud-burst, or herbicides to quell an alien uprising. Carl van der Merwe has a certain quiet fortitude about doing this conversion right in all respects that makes me think he is either a man of great conviction or slightly deranged. But I am assured it is the former.
So as the (fully paved) road winds up the hills, he explains some of the ideas he is putting into practise, like mixed interplantings between the vines to bring flowers and colour and a variety of insects, like “weeds” right under the canopy to encourage earthworms to operate right there, like changing the trellis systems to create more vigorous bark growth and more ladybirds.
Another idea he is exploring is very high density planting. While the norm in conventional farming is around 2500 vines per hectare, he is pushing this to 10000 in a few blocks. The idea is to get the vines to inter-compete, and to get them to send their roots deeper and thereby avoid late summer water stress.
Because he chooses not to irrigate – anything that replicates or replaces nature’s choice is not a reflection of “terroir” for Carl – and he is one of the few that is practising what he preaches.
But more later…