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2017 is almost at its end. This has been a tough year in the vineyards. Very low winter rainfall saw the groundwater at just about 70% in some regions at the start of the growing season. This put enormous strain on the plants, especially young vines that has not developed a substantial root system.

Despite the ongoing drought there are still a lot of vineyards that are coping very well, and some regions actually have more than enough water. I believe that in every difficult or challenging situation in life you must find the positive and learn from it. So here are some of the things that I’ve learned this season:

We are not serious enough about soil health. We need to mulch, mulch and mulch some more! The winemakers that have exclusive brands attached to specific vineyards will have to help the farmers in these difficult times and help them buy wood chips, compost or even better – straw. I believe the livelihood of some vineyards will depend on this. Have a look at a previous post showing the difference in topsoil temperature differences with and without mulching here

Secondly, we will have to look at varieties that handle our extreme heat and dry summers better. I want to be so bold as to say that I think Paarl, the Swartland and Darling should have at least 50% of their red varieties planted to Grenache noir and Cinsaut (Bushvine please!!!! We don’t want to make Rose from these vineyards…)  Carignan funny enough doesn’t cope well with the heat and drought, contrary to what I’ve seen in Priorat. Looking at white varieties I believe Grenache blanc, Chenin blanc, Palomino and Semillon can take the punch in the unforgiving Paarl and Swartland climate. Varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and in some cases Shiraz should be left for the guys in Stellenbosch, Constantia and Durbanville. Even the guys in the Breedekloof can plant these due to the fact that they have access to more water.

On the other hand you have pioneers like Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger (just to mention two, there are loads more) that are experimenting with new varieties from Spain and Greece, to establish if there are a future for these tough cultivars in South Africa. These plantings are on a minute scale and still in its infant shoes, so this will still take some time, buy hey, at least someone has started with this!

Thirdly, and lastly, I just saw again the importance of timing with regards to vineyard canopy management. Some guys just get it horribly wrong, especially winemakers that follow a recipe or are in a vineyard twice or maybe 5 times a year and think they are viticulturists. Use us viticulturists – we are here to help.

Dry season viticulture is tough. You have to pull out all the stops, use all the tools and even better – use other viticulturist to test your ideas! This year I used NDVI’s every time a new image was up. Using tools like Fruitlook is also vital (and FREE!!!) in a dry season to manage your water sources better. I still use the Sentinel 2 satellite and don’t think we are there yet with drones, even though a lot of cowboys are making a shit load of money off the Cellars and farmers with uncalibrated images. Watch out for this.

So that is that for the vineyards. What happened with Visual Viticulture in 2017? Loads! Loads happened.

In May, me and my good friend over at Boutinot Wines, JD Rossouw, went to film the Ghost Vines of Theewaterskloof. This was such a rare event. With the drought having the Western Cape in a chokehold, the Theewaterskloof dam water level dropped so low that old vineyards emerged. The story made headlines all across the world, having been featured on websites in the UK and the USA, and even stories in the Rapport and on RSG. The video received more than 22 000 views on YouTube, and still counting. Click here to see the video

Myself and JD Rossouw in the Ghost Vineyards of the Theewaterskloof dam

Visual Viticulture also started to work with some new clients – The Blacksmith Wines and The Sadie Family Wines. 2018 harvest will be a tough one, but I can’t wait to help better the vineyards that these companies use in their wines. This is a team sport.

2017 also seen an increase in the amount of clients using Visual Viticulture for remote sensing and GIS studies. I am still dumbfound at the lack of knowledge on this subject from almost 90% of the industry, but we are slowly getting there. Three large projects that seen the mapping of Grenache noir, Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Noir with regards to Solar radiation of the iconic wines in South Africa was also a highlight for me. The results was testament to the work we are doing and the future of mapping and designing vineyards in the present and the future.

The Old Vine Project, another client of Visual Viticulture, are also at a very exciting stage. With all the legalities sorted, the Old Vine Project will be the first body to certify old vine wines in the world, in cooperation with SAWIS and the Wine and Spirits Board. This means that no phony beloney claims can be made with regards to old vine on the label. Old vines in South Africa are classified as 35 years and older. Look out for the Certified Heritage Vineyards seal of approval on the wines in the coming season – exciting stuff!!

Furthermore I upgraded my Drone, and will keep on learning how to better apply the technology in viticulture and agriculture. For now it is just a hobby, until better research results are available and I feel more comfortable with the technology and the authenticity of the data. If someone wants to sponsor me a Parrot Sequoia, please contact me as I really want one… had in the excess of 1.4 million hits, more than 85 000 unique visitors and more than 105 000 page visits. Thanks to everyone that stills reads my blog, engage my Twitter account and follow my Instagram account.

So, what lies ahead for 2018?

A big focus on soil health and an even bigger focus on soil moisture management. Mapping all my clients’ vineyards with high resolution imagery, better planning and strategies, fight grapevine leafroll more vigilantly, planting more unique vine gardens, finding and reviving more and more old and forgotten vineyards, collaborating with The Blacksmith Wines to make some unique wines, planting more Grenache noir, finish planting my own vine garden in my Grandma’s garden in Stillbay on the South Coast – 4 km from the Ocean, do loads more GIS studies, hopefully travel overseas and learn, learn and learn. I bet I will find some more things to do…

Grenache noir, Cinsaut and Carignan vine garden, designed with a DJI Phantom 3 and ArcGIS.

Thanks to David van Velden at Overgaauw, Carmen Stevens, Nicolaas Geldenhuys of Geldenhuys Broers, Rosa Kruger, Schalk-Willem and the team at Rupert and Rothschild, Johan Kruger at Kruger Family Wines, Eben Sadie and his team at The Sadie Family Wines, Tremayne Smith of The Blacksmith Wines, André Morgenthal at The Old Vine Project and all the other clients that did business with Visual Viticulture in 2017 – much appreciated.

André Morgenthal and myself in the legendary vineyards on the Skurfberg Mountains, just outside Clanwilliam

O, and the most exciting thing to happen in 2018 is that my first kid is coming! My son will be born in February! Fuck I’m excited about that!



Myself and Eben Sadie in the Old Vineyards on the West Coast

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