INTRODUCTION OF FELCO OLD VINE PRUNING
By Old Vine Project
Worldwide, old vines are honorably mentioned on wine bottle labels. Such is the value and status accorded to old vineyards and the wines they produce. Interestingly, only South Africa, are old vine wines certified by a national wine regulatory authority. In South Africa, members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) can now add a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal which includes the planting date, on bottles of wine made from vineyards 35 years or older. The Old Vine Project was developed and formalized in 2016 with support and funding from the Rupert Foundation.
As far back as 2002, Rosa Kruger, a renowned South African viticulturist, recognized the potential, value and uniqueness of old vines. She started documenting old vineyards in South Africa. Approximately 4% of vineyards (33505 hectares), qualify for Old Vine status in South Africa. The reason for the low percentage being older vineyards bear less fruit, resulting in a low yield per hectare and ultimately a lower return on investment. The secret to enhance yield lies in the skill and knowledge of the viticulturist and the workforce who cares for and prunes the vineyard. The foundation of a good wine always starts in the vineyard. The talent, skill, knowledge and attitude of the pruners can determine the longevity of the vineyard, as well as influence the yield.
In general, uninformed, unskilled vineyard workers do not take the special needs of old vines into account when they prune, and this can easily destroy a precious old vine simply through incorrect pruning methods. The need to establish a credible, certified training programme for pruners was established. This specialized pruning training is designed to motivate, empower and share knowledge how to treat and prune old vines with special care and respect. The pruner is empowered through knowledge to enhance their pruning skill and appreciate the importance and context of their labor and understand the impact and result of applying their knowledge and skills to the overall quality of the final product. To this end, the goal of OVP is, to empower and train every single person that prunes an old vine in the Western Cape, within the next 3 years.
FELCO stepped up and offered to sponsor the training programme, hosted by members of the Old Vine Project. Four classes were successfully held last year, so a further 4 classes will follow this year. The training consists of a theory module, followed by hands on practical experience in an old vineyard, under supervision. One of the main problems in terms of pruning, is the maintenance and correct use of pruning shears. A pruning booklet was developed specifically aimed at pruners by a unique editorial team made up of, viticulturist Rosa Kruger, the OVP team, Gys Liebenberg from FELCO Africa and a team of highly experienced pruners.
Pruning training courses have wider significance and impact. Ideas, experiences and knowledge is shared between the group of pruners. Through training OVP, along with FELCO want to focus efforts on enhancing and contributing to the social, environmental upliftment and positive economic impact on the wine industry. The training enhances and uplifts vineyard workers through education, skills and knowledge as well as creates opportunities for future generations.
Pruning is an artisanship that shapes the longevity of the vineyard and the quality of the wine. We are looking forward to a long-term relationship with FELCO; ploughing back into the wine industry and cultivating a culture of knowledge and upliftment.
Identification of the problem
In general, vineyard workers are uninformed and therefore are unaware of the special needs of old vines to consider when they start pruning. Ignorance can easily destroy an old vine only by incorrect pruning methods. Therefore, it absolutely essential to start a training programme to explain to pruners how to respect old vines in their approach and their pruning methods. The aim is to train every single person that prunes an old vine in the Western Cape, within the next 3 years.
FELCO stepped up and offered to sponsor the training programme, hosted by members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) – there were 4 classes. The training consists of a theory module followed by practical experience in an old vineyard.
One of the main problems in terms of pruning, is the maintenance of pruning shears. After a general introduction by Andre Morgenthal of the OVP to contextualise the importance of old vine wines and the specific pruning methods to maintain the old vines, Gys Liebenberg of FELCO presented general maintenance methods and the importance of basic use and regular cleaning of the shears. Sheldon van Wyk, seasoned vineyard contractor who has been working closely with Rosa for many years, identified common pruning mistakes that can literally kill an entire vineyard. Gys clarified the fact that with a clean and properly sharpened shear, pruning is much more efficient and effective for both pruner and the vine.
South Africa has a total of 3505 hectares old vines, which is 4% of the total hectares under vine. Older vineyards bear less fruit resulting in less tonnage per hectare and ultimately a lower return on investment. The people who take care of the vineyards, form the foundation of a good wine. The talent and level of skill of the pruner determines the longevity of the vineyard.
The OVP, along with FELCO aim to focus efforts on having a social, environmental and economic impact and positive influence on our wine industry. The training, empowerment through education and upliftment of our vineyard workers will ensure specific goal-based, outcome-based education of the wine industry community and enhance opportunities for future generations.
Rosa Kruger shares the following insight “Old Vines are a wonderful source of knowledge for scientific research in our understanding of plants and the aging process of vines, especially in this challenging time of climate change.”
By centralizing our efforts around upskilling our people and enhancing the environment, we can use our viticultural heritage as building blocks to create future value and ultimately create a sustainable model for farmers. The long-term aim of the project is to create a network of knowledge which encourages an in -and out flow of information. During 2019, four instructors were trained, who in turn trained 60 attendees. The attendees in turn will, in theory, take the knowledge of old vine pruning principles back to the network of 60 OVP members. It is not only the knowledge and upskilling of people that plays an essential role but the influence this has on enhancing self-esteem and confidence through training and skills development.
Individual farms don’t always have the time, means and resources to send employees on training courses. FELCO, as an industry role player, has by investing in our industry made this empowering endeavor with positive motivational impact, possible.
Planning of course and booklet
A pruning booklet was developed by a unique editorial team. Contributors were viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, the OVP team, Gys Liebenberg from FELCO Africa and a team of experienced pruners.
The editorial team identified the key principles of old vine pruning. An essential part of the process was to extract and transfer knowledge from experienced sources who have worked and nurtured these old vines for decades.
With FELCO pruning shears in hand and a photographer to pictorially document the process, the team visited the Lötter Cinsault, South Africa’s 2nd oldest registered red wine vineyard. This dry farmed bush vine Cinsault was planted in 1932 on the lower eastern slopes of Franschhoek mountains. To illustrate the pruning principles of trellised vineyards, the team visited a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard from L’Ormarins, planted in 1982.
Walking through the vineyards, Rosa says, “You can do anything with a vineyard, if you just listen to it.”
To source more images, the team visited Reyneke Wines where we visited an old Chenin Blanc vine.
John Reyneke explained, “I awoke one morning to find my neighbour removing old Chenin Blanc vines. I rushed out, asked him to stop and offered to buy the grapes at a sustainable price. He agreed and eventually we bought the farm.”
Johan Reyneke, a leader in biodynamic farming practices, is not a winemaker by qualification. He studied Philosophy at Stellenbosch University. After his studies, Johan applied for a position as a waiter, but after six months on the waiting list he was unsuccessful. He reckons his dreadlocks were the deal breaker. He then opted to work as a vineyard worker. Here Johan made the connection between philosophy and wine: “Agriculture is the art of farming”.
Even though there are less pronounced fruit tons from old vine wines, there is a certain balance, structure and depth, often reflecting the vineyard site. Reyneke’s philosophy is, “The farm is not an inheritance from your parents, it is borrowed from your children.” He believes in being a custodian of the land, rather than an owner.
The team of experts carefully considered and checked each vineyard principle. The principles needed to be factually correct and easy to apply practically. Each principle was matched with an image that best illustrated the crux of the message. After receiving valuable advice from industry experts and a final go ahead, the first FELCO Old Vine Pruning booklet was off to the printers.
FELCO Old Vine Pruning Classes
The OVP creates a platform whereby FELCO can actively engage with end users and contribute to the South African wine industry though education, outcomes-based skills development, which in turn motivates and recognises the important role of the vineyard workforce.
Overheard in the vineyard when we started the practical module of the FELCO Old Vine Pruning Training, Gys tells us he gave one of the students a FELCO (he had an inferior brand with him) and as he starts pruning, he exclaims “Now I’m empowered!” Pruning with a FELCO is simply just a next level experience which results in more efficient pruning, benefitting both vineyard worker and the vines.
Our first day started at Rickety Bridge with members from their team, as well as from Bosman and a representative from Anthonij Rupert Wines. The main aim was to explain in as simple and understandable way possible to the pruning staff how to best prune old vines to ensure the vines reached their maximum yield. Training is such an important element within the winemaking value chain, and it starts in the vineyards. We instilled this sentiment in the students and it was clear that this mindset adds a valuable element of self-worth and pride, in what they do to contribute in the success of the eventual product which bears the seal of the Old Vine Wines from Certified Heritage Vineyards.
The second day of FELCO Old Vine Pruning classes was held at Bellevue Wine Estate, attended along with Joostenberg and Kaapzicht Wine Estate. The theoretical session was held in the first Manor house on the farm, dating back to the 1700’s. The original wall of exposed bricks reflected the rich heritage of Bellevue. The team visited a vineyard block, planted in the 1950’s.
During a conversation over lunch, Bellevue vineyard supervisor Francina Mouries, commented “It is important that consumers know where the wine in their glass comes from. It all starts with the care of the vineyards. Today I have found a new appreciation of old vines.”
The next session was presented at Bill&Co in Swartland. David&Nadia, Lammershoek, Anthonij Rupert Wyne and Altydgedacht attended this session. Hans Alkaster was born on Lammershoek and knows the vineyards like the back of his hand. He told us stories of grape names of long ago; “Fransdruif” (Palomino) and “Steen” (Chenin Blanc) are amongst his favourites. After a delicious breakfast at Bill&Co, the team went for practical training at a Semillon block, planted in 1972.
Our final day of classes were held at Du Bois Boerdery in Stellenbosch. Du Bois Boerdery is a member of the Old Vine Project as a grape grower.
Jacques du Bois, along with his brother Gabriel is 4th generation Du Bois on the farm. “A couple of years ago this Chenin Blanc block was on its way out. Then the Old Vine Project arrived. It was due to the OVP that this block was saved. We are now able to sell our grapes at sustainable price points and this block is now our most profitable of all our blocks on the farm. Our vision about the block is different; if the block can become 100 years old, we will manage it in such a way” says Jacques as he explains the history of the Chenin Blanc block planted in 1966 by his grandfather.
Adele Stander, student of the Cape Wine Academy and starting her Cape Wine Master qualification soon, commented on the course, “The thought-process behind the pruning of old vines is inspirational. Each vine is unique and needs to be evaluated individually before pruning. The course itself was able to take complex concepts and communicate it in an easy to understand and practical manner. The trainers were open and there was sense of togetherness between the pruning teams. Once again, our attention was turned to the importance of respecting your secateurs. With the correct care and maintenance, a FELCO can last you a lifetime.”
Ideas, experiences and wisdom were shared between the group of pruners. Pruning is an artisanship that shapes the longevity of the vineyard and the quality of the wine. We are looking forward a long-term relationship with FELCO; ploughing back into the wine industry and cultivating a culture of empowering knowledge.