Backsberg Vineyards Greet New Season with an Eager Spring in their Step
Nobody can make definite predictions on next year’s grape harvest at this stage of the season. But according to Talitha Venter, viticulturist at Backsberg Estate Cellars in Paarl, vineyard growth is fast and furious, which could lead to an early harvest.
After a stifling and dry summer, the winter months saw some low temperatures on Backsberg. “This was just what the vineyards need to replenish their reserves after the demands the growing and ripening season had placed on the plants,” says Talitha. “Like the rest of the winelands we would have liked more rain, but the cold spells cooled the soils sufficiently.”
Some warm days towards the end of winter, however, saw the hibernation ending abruptly. “We were almost caught unaware when the vines showed bud-break early, literally a few weeks earlier than usual,” she says. “Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is a late variety and the vines were showing green in August, while Chardonnay was budding in July.”
What this means is a busy spring for Talitha and her team in the vineyard. “The energetic growth means suckering and getting shoots onto the wires to ensure the vines are neat and in shape for when flowering begins, which will be one of these days,” she says.
“With over 60 hectares of vines spread over a diverse array of sites, and each variety growing at a different pace, things are pretty hectic. It means long hours in the vineyards, with limited time for admin and other indoor activities.”
The growth is even, and the plants appear in rude health. “This is a critical time during which the quality of the grapes as well as yield for vintage 2017 is determined,” she says.
Water management at this time is critical. You don’t want to water too much as a bit of stress ensures good fruit quality. But the vines must not panic wondering where their next bit of life-giving water is coming from.”
But, as any viticulturist knows, anything can still happen as the business of growing wine grapes is in the hands of nature.
“It would be fantastic if the cool weather held for a few weeks and the south-easter is kept at bay,” says Talitha, “but over this we have no control. This is what makes wine farming so exciting – there is nothing like the unpredictability of nature to keep one on your toes.”