Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

With some arguing that in the post-sanction era, the Cape’s wine trade is only 20 years old despite a 350-year-old tradition, it seems appropriate that traditional Sur Échalas or single pole viticulture is taking hold in the Cape – and not just on steep slopes.

While some, like Botanica and Chamonix, are using it on steep slopes, others like Newton Johnson are applying it on flatter terrain but all have the same aim – improved quality.

“The main reason for Sur Échalas is to facilitate increased vine density on slopes where narrow trellised rows will be impossible on the account of uneven slopes or contours. And with the higher density the vigour can only go one way and that is up!

“The system is expensive to develop and costly to maintain, but often these high quality well-drained terroirs are found on these slopes and high quality wines are the result – it makes perfect maths”, says Eben Sadie

Some varieties like Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot are prone to floppy shoots and need more love and support by way of tying up their summer shoots – others like Grenache, Chenin Blanc and Mourvèdre, with stiffer shoots, not. Most, if not all, viticultural actions are done by hand. The system reduces the per square metre footprint and allows the individual wine to have a proper canopy development.

As the name suggests, Sur Échalas or stok-by-paaltjie (SBP) is not much more than a bush or goblet vine with a pole, but the differences are significant. Trellis-wired vertical shoot positioning is more two dimensional, while this allows for 360° light penetration. Although the fruiting zone is only elevated by around 40 cm, it translates into 2-3°C cooler micro-climate and improved air circulation.

It does, however, remain small vine viticulture that tends towards smaller berries and bunches, which leads to greater concentration of aromas and flavours. Higher root density means improved utilisation of relatively marginal or poor soils while lower yield per vine is partially offset by higher plant density.

Gobelet training has been used since Roman times. The spurs are arranged on short arms in an approximate circle at the top of a short trunk, making the vine shape look like a glass or goblet.  Vine density can be as high as 9 000 vines per hectare.

“At Cape Point Vineyards we were a bit hamstrung since we only have a certain amount of land available for plantings so any growth in production had to be achieved viticulturally,” says winemaker Duncan Savage. “Normally you’d increase your vine density to reduce vigour and to make the vines compete for nutrition. Our aim is a better utilisation of our soil. We’re excited by the opportunities SBP presents,” says Savage.

 Columella Vineyard                                 Gottfried Mocke – Cape Chamonix              Eben Sadie in his ”Hoefyster” Vineyard

  Gottfried Mocke - Cape Chamonix  Eben Sadie in his "Hoefyster" Vineyard

Botanica Vineyards

Jonathan Snashall

Greenland & Goodwin Wines

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