Vines bear fruit for around 20 -25 years before the yield decreases and the vineyard block needs to be replanted, although if the quality of the block is really great it may last longer. On Excelsior this means that roughly 4% of the farm is under renovation each year and it’s quite a process.
Prospect Land (so called because it’s opposite Prospect farm) is the latest 10 ha block to go in for an update. Formerly planted with Chardonnay and Merlot, which was removed last year, this block is currently being prepared for new planting.
It’s not quite as easy as out with the old and in with the new. There are lots of careful measurements to make in order to ensure that the vines are neatly laid out over such a large area and that the tractors can fit snuggly down the rows without catching.
The old vines were removed, and taken away to be used for firewood, and the land was left totally fallow for a year to allow the soil to recover. Then for the fun bit; the big machines! The soil was ripped to a depth of 1.8m during a dry spell to break up the clods of loamy clay and limestone.
Once it has been ripped, no heavy machinery is allowed to avoid soil compaction, keep the soil soft for the roots of the new vines and allow good drainage. River stones are collected by hand while limestone stones are left behind and will be broken down by exposure to the sun and elements and enrich the soil.
Now for the vineyard pole jigsaw! The 1.5m poles used on ‘Prospect Land’ are a mixture of new and salvaged poles. On the vertical axis of the block they are spaced 6.5m apart (a measurement called a ‘vak’ …which doesn’t sound as rude in Afrikaans!) allowing 5 vines to be grown 1.25m apart in between each pole.
On the horizontal axis the poles are spaced alternately 1.5m and 2.5m apart creating a narrow row and a slightly wider row down which a tractor can fit.
Once the axes are in place, work can begin on laying out the rest of the block in 100m by 100m squares, initially marking the position of poles using a reed. The team then make a ‘pole hole’ using a rod called a Koevoet.
The pole is hammered into the ground with a Lollipop!
Poles are adjusted by hand to ensure that the foot of the pole is in line. How many men does it take to straighten a pole?! Three! Two men stand on each axis to check the alignment and the third moves the pole. It’s important to get the poles as perfectly in line as possible to allow for easy management of the block, even though as the ground shifts the poles will inevitably move and in 5 years they may well be slightly misaligned.