What was once regarded as a hippie aberration is slowly becoming a side of winemaking that’s no longer regarded merely as a fleeting trend or flavours of the month, but as the way forward for an industry that’s become worryingly dependent on heavy-handed farming practices.
Every winemaker knows the truth. That the key to great wine is in the vineyards. It comes down to grape quality, which ultimately depends on the soil and how it is farmed. Everything that happens after the grapes are picked can either disguise flaws in the fruit or enhance greatness, but at its essence, winemaking is about harvesting the best possible grapes.
Unfortunately, modern winemaking relies on agricultural industrialisation to extract as much profit as possible. Chemical fertilisers, pesticides and all manner of heavy-handed methods have become the convention in farming today, and that applies to wine farms too. There are, of course, renegades, rebels and outsiders charting an alternative course.
Corné Marais, winemaker at Avondale, compares their balanced grapes that result from the “fast-food-style chemical dosing regime” practised on many farms. “Chemicals fertilisers cause imbalances in the soil, in the vineyard, and in the grapes,” he says. “If you farm in the conventional way, with excessive chemicals, you need to wait until the grapes have very high sugar content before they ripen – if they ripen properly at all.
“What we want,” says Johnathan, “is for the grapes to grow naturally, without human interference. That results in balanced grapes with better concentration of flavour. The grapes we pick are actually properly ripe.