It’s early spring and the vineyards at Waterford Estate are slowly waking up after winter. Some blocks are showing pops of green as tiny buds start to appear; others have hit the snooze button once more, leaving their vines bare for another couple of days. Soon, however, all the blocks will be ready for another harvest cycle.
This is an interesting time of year for Waterford Estate viticulturist David van Schalkwyk, who keeps a close eye on the vines to see if the bud break will be even, as the buds are harbingers of the harvest to come.
Today, he’s a tad concerned, as fairly temperamental weather conditions seem to have confused the vines. “I don’t think we’ve had enough cold units,” he says. “We had a couple of warm days at the end of June and now it’s still quite cold and wet. At this stage, the bud break is a week late.”
David hopes that all the vines will catch up over time, and that the bud break won’t be too uneven. Then, the vineyards will flower and another sensitive period in the development of the fruit will follow. Strong winds and other factors could interfere with pollination, and only time will tell if this part of the cycle is as fruitful as the viticulturist hopes it will be.
With the many cultivars that grow on Waterford Estate, it’s at least easy to spread out the work over the growing season. The Chardonnay block that’s used to produce Waterford Estate’s renowned MCC is likely to flower and form fruit first, while some of the red varietals such as the Cabernet Franc will take longer to get going. When growing season is in full swing, David says, the different cultivars will be at different stages in the growth process.
A trip through the vineyards is a visual feast at this time of year. While the vineyards are still quite bare, the rest of the estate is covered with flowers. There’s the field of sunflowers that David planted last year, the proteas are in full bloom, and even the cover crops are wearing their brightest colours for the Wine-drive Safari and Porcupine Walk visitors. The cover crops haven’t been flattened yet as they’re helping to soak up some of the water in the soil. And so, for now, they form part of the show.
During early spring, David typically spends time researching and, this year, he is focusing on experimenting with a new range of natural products to use in the vineyards. Always remaining sensitive towards the natural fauna and flora that grow and live on the slopes of the majestic Helderberg Mountain, the viticulturist tirelessly works at improving his knowledge about farming methods and products that will have as little impact on the environment as possible.
Moving down towards the cellar after a drive through the vineyards, it’s also wonderful to see that the farm dams are once again at 100% capacity. In many respects, nature has provided generously this year, and David is looking forward to another successful harvest season. It’s without a doubt the best time of the year to be in the business of winemaking.
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