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For the wine geeks: Winter Preparations

30 Jul 2020

While the rest of the world went into lockdown, farming activities had to continue at Deux Frères with the annual preparation for winter.

We were fortunate with a wonderful climate at the time, giving Stephan enough time to do the soil preparation with the tractor. Generally we try to minimize working with the tractor between the rows, guarding against soil compaction, but with some tasks there is no alternative.

The process starts with an informal soil analyses. This means walking between all the rows trying to identify areas where the vines are visibly under more stress than the rest of the block. Should there be visible problems, holes are dug and soil samples are taken at various depths. The samples are analysed at Nietvoorbij although now some of the fertiliser companies also provide this service. If necessary trace element like calcium or gypsum is strewn after which the normal procedure of planting a cover crop commences.

The cover crop process is started by ripping the soil between the rows to a depth of approximately 40 centimetres. This aerates the soil and also break some of the surface roots, stimulating new growth and re-invigorating the vines. The seedbed is then prepared with a disc plough, turning the soil and breaking up clots. The desired cover crop is sown by hand and then the seed is covered by dragging a rake over the seedbed.

A lot of thought is put into the type of cover crop that is used.

The large Cabernet block (dark blue flag) is planted on the highest part of the farm on soil gravelly by nature with a granite bedrock. This was planted with Grain Rye and Pink Serradella.

The hardiest of cereals, rye can be seeded later in fall than other cover crops and still provide considerable dry matter. An extensive soil-holding root system, significant reduction of nitrate leaching and exceptional weed suppression are characteristics

Pink Serradella is a beautiful feathery leaved pasture legume. As it’s a deeply rooted legume it is able to extract and bring deep sourced minerals and trace elements to the surface.

The Mourvedre block (red flag), planted on broken granite and gravelly soil, was planted with white mustard.

White Mustard is an excellent cover crop in vineyards. It suppresses soil borne diseases and provides some allelopathic weed control, hindering the germination of ryegrass. Once tilled under, the crop adds some nitrogen and lots of organic matter to the soil. Another benefit of mustard is that it attracts large populations of beneficial insects.

Although Deux Frères is not an organic farm, we are very aware of the fact that vines growing in a naturally healthy environment requires much less intervention. This brings down costs and contribute to a better environment for all.

The Shiraz block (green flag) was planted with Bitter Lupines. Lupines are used as green manure and in rotation with cereals because they are capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere and converting it to a usable form. Lupines are also well-known in weed management.

The Petit Verdot block (yellow flag) has a sandy, clay-based soil. This was planted with hay as a grain and Vetch.

Since vetch is leguminous, nitrogen is fixed and will help meet the needs of the following crop. It protects the soil from erosion and improve soil tilth, creating a loose and friable soil structure. Vetch doesn’t build up long-term soil organic matter due to its tendency to break down completely.

The Malbec (light blue flag) has dwarf fescue as a permanent cover crop.

The one hectare leased from Slaley since last year, is planted to thirty five year old Sauvignon Blanc vines. This block was similarly tilled as described above and planted with Saia Oats and Vetch.

The final step in the preparation for winter is to ensure that all drainage channels are free running and not obstructed in any way. This is especially important with the first rain when the cover crop will still be in its infancy and not yet able to prevent soil erosion. As the different crops mature the risk of erosion get less.

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We are listed as the current top producer and have the second highest rated red wine by Dave March’s.