Being outside, tending to grape vines, might seem like light, easy work. But being a viticulturist certainly doesn’t mean you get to relax and enjoy the sunshine. It’s hard work, as Waterford Estate’s David van Schalkwyk proves.
Spending a day with Waterford Estate viticulturist David van Schalkwyk gives one a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the estate and the life of a farm manager.
Along with winemaker Mark le Roux, David tends to a diverse range of grape varieties grown on the Stellenbosch estate, producing sough-after wines like The Jem. He’s fortunate enough to work with a dedicated team of farm workers, many of whom have been living and working on the farm for several years.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for David.
05h00: Not much chance of hitting the snooze button! With a three-week-old baby, a toddler and a Boxer named Gustav in the house, David’s morning starts early…
05h45: After a quick coffee and breakfast, David hits the road and heads to nearby Waterford Estate.
06h00: Time for the morning’s meeting with the male staff members, as many of the women are still tending to their children. Each team member is greeted by hand, after which the viticulturist quickly runs through the priorities for the day. Many will simply pick up where they left off the day before.
06h30: While David gives his whiteboard a last check, the crew jumps on trucks and tractors, each with a backpack in hand. The day’s work is about to start.
07h00: By now, all the guys have been dropped off – either in the vineyards or at other points on the estate where work needs to be done. David starts doing his rounds to check if every team member knows exactly what he needs to do. It’s harvest season and so, today, a large group is working in the Cabernet Franc block, preparing the grapes for harvesting. Uneven ripening of some of the bunches mean that a number of bunches have to be cut out.
08h00: Most of the female members of the team arrive at their points. David quickly explains what the rest of the team is up to, and why it’s important to get each task done just right.
08h30: David’s phone starts buzzing. His coffee group is starting to gather around the espresso machine. This group of friends (all Waterford Estate employees) make a point of quickly catching up every morning before the tasting room and cellar get busy.
09h00: Working in idyllic surroundings has its perks, but David’s job also comes with a few humdrum chores. As his mates make their way to the cellar, tasting room and office, David drives up into the vineyards to deliver his team’s mobile toilet.
10h00: A problem with one of Waterford Estate’s farm vehicles has David checking in at the store room at the bottom of the estate. He takes a moment to check his emails and order some supplies.
10h30: David jumps in his bakkie again, drives up to the Chardonnay block and checks in on a team member who has been spraying the block. Did he spray in every row, and at the right pressure and speed?
11h00: Satisfied that they job has been done well, David drives to town. He has to pick up fittings for the cellar’s cooling system, which needs an upgrade.
12h20: Back from the hardware store, David drives past the Shiraz block, where the team is now doing some clean-up work. He quickly checks if they’re all up to speed.
12h30: Time for lunch. David picks up the group of casuals who are here for the harvest season and drops them off at the store room with the rest of the picking crew; then the man himself moves up to the main building to grab a bite to eat.
13h30: David and Mark briefly chat about the cooling system. New concrete egg fermenters have arrived and need to be hooked up to the rest of the system. Fortunately, one of David’s team members is an expert and has already made good progress on supplying cool air to Mark’s new fermenters.
14h30: David does another round to see how things are progressing in the vineyards. It’s a beautiful summer afternoon on Waterford Estate and, thanks to a cool breeze, productivity is high.
15h00: The bakkie pulls to a stop at the Grenache vineyard, where the morning’s work of cutting out uneven bunches is repeated. David walks slowly through the vines, paying close attention to the grapes. The season’s intermittent rains have upped the risk for disease in the vineyards, and David needs to be absolutely sure that the grapes are healthy.
16h00: David does his last checks for the day, which includes a brief check-in at the cellar to see how the upgrade to the cooling system is progressing. Another round in the vineyards follows. It’s late in the day and, by now, his team members need some extra motivation to keep going.
17h00: The team is taken back down to the store room, where the day started with a meeting. It’s finally time for each team member to make his or her way home. Satisfied that it’s been a productive day on the farm, David grabs his own things, gets into his bakkie for the last time today, and takes a slow drive home.
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