In 1991 my Mom and Dad planted a block of Pinot Noir PN52, a Burgundy clone selected for use in the production of Pongrácz, Methode Cap Classique.
Thirty years on, with the vineyard still in pristine condition, it seemed time to produce our maiden vintage of The Hills Cap Classique. Time to call on the expertise of Matt Krone.
Grapes were picked by hand and delivered to the cellar.
Cap Classique undergoes two fermentations: the first in a tank (or barrel) to create a light, still, base wine and the second in the bottle where the future bubbles are formed.
But I am getting ahead of myself. After the primary fermentation, our base wine was bottled with a small quantity of yeast and sugar and closed with a crown cork.
Carbonic gas formed as a by-product during secondary fermentation, will be absorbed under pressure to eventually be released in the glass as those tingling bubbles. This natural process should not be rushed and despite my inquisitiveness, I must wait for a year or two to continue this story.
Some time ago, Alan and I attended a snake handling course.
Our initial encounters on the farm included a resident, non-venomous Mole Snake and a harmless Aurora House Snake
As well as a mildly venomous Spotted Skaapsteker.
Then one day Owen alerted me to a snake that had been harassed by a pair of Common Fiscal shrikes and had sought refuge in a woodpile. Armed with my tongs and bucket, I kept watch while Owen slowly removed the wood from the pile.
Suddenly the snake emerged. I missed it on my first attempt but caught it on the second. A highly venomous Cape Cobra!
After a quick lesson, Owen helped me get the snake into the bucket.
After lots of photographs, Owen and I released the snake into the fynbos on a hill of a neighbouring farm.
Whilst I have the kit and the training, I hope not to have to do this too often!
After the harvest the vines continue to take up nutrients, creating carbohydrate reserves needed to develop early shoots in the following spring.
Shortly after this the leaves drop and the vines enter a period of winter dormancy.
Winter is the time to nourish the soil by planting cereal or legume cover crops. We plant the cover crop in every second row on annual rotation. Pruned vine canes are dropped in the unplanted row.
A healthy cover crop enriches the soil. It is not harvested but is left in the vineyard to contribute to a carpet of organic matter. This assists in suppressing weed growth and importantly helps with water retention in the hot summer months that follow.
Winter is also the time for pruning.
We prune manually in three stages, with the key focus being on restricting the crop to maximize fruit quality. You can’t make good wine from poor fruit!
During July we remove excess growth in a “brush cut” operation.
In the second step around mid-August, next year’s bearers are selected in the “clean pruning” operation.
Finally, towards the end of August/ early September, selected bearers are cut back to two-bud spurs.
Shortly after our arrival on the farm in 1964, I accompanied my Dad to a livestock auction near Bellville in search of a draught horse to work in the vineyards. “No pull no pay” declared the auctioneer, as my Dad successfully bid for Sussie.
It soon transpired that Sussie was in foal. I don’t recall whether it was just before the end of the year or just in the new year that Justin, a strapping young colt, was born.
On the farm, Sussie’s main function was to plough a furrow on both sides of the vineyard rows, the so called “bankie”, from which the weeds were later manually cleared or “geskoffel” using a long handled spade. After delving into family albums we found the photograph below which, with some technological wizardry, was converted to digital format. A little unclear but one can see Sussie ploughing a “bankie”, with Justin getting an early introduction ahead.
Sussie’s duties were relieved when we acquired Mr Plod, our part Flemish draught horse.
It was however, time for mechanisation and we soon acquired a 1949 Ferguson tractor, locally known as the Vaaljapie.
After years of working in the vineyards and trundling 2.5 ton loads of grapes to Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, our Vaaljapie was retired.
Fortunately, I not only have photographs, I still have the real thing!